Skip to main content

Full text of "Joseph Conrad"

See other formats






WRITERS OF THE DAY 


General Editor; Bertram Christian 


8 3 * , Z : <Vu>tfe«u> , jcauzjmz. a £.* 

/ r J * * 

V 



JOSEPH CONRAD 

Kr £*XuK ouCIoCft- f R.sahA'VjS^ •h-t.'ryunO-t a.g 
JttiM'Pnij ‘^'VyllrvT J^tk * C„ft j?, 

i (P Q^, 

iim^MyyOtX' cwrvR 'tl-'ix P, luCtuiX eiu-iu n. jjjui o-j 
AO^C-fl tlAjoJt HJXXS . ( FC £ MXh&ru 
yytClJjM.Jt-1 <^» ?H_A-*V fa\^cbruMtdi />*4jo 
jjU **\jL tsrt-^v <v Alehin 
sy-UA^'v-®*-. husv n ~o > u?i$? 
ijfizfc h~?-~ Y-| awLy L^kaxn 

^ •dX<<L*itfi^.-fc iyjj- '^-•OC* aA-' ,X^\, 

aak. a. 

iU-viA- \]f\AAnCurn- hyi, ji^ilc 
* V-O/mX. AjZ-Xssd-# , 



By man walpolb 

Novels 

The London Novels 
FORTITUDE 

THE DUCHESS OF WRENS 
THE GREEN MIRROR 
THE CAPTIVES 
THE YOUNG ENCHANTED 
WINTER SMOON 
HANS FROST 

Scenes from Provincial Info 

THE CATHEDRAL 
THE OLD LADIES 
HARMER JOHN 


THE WOODEN HORSE 
MR PERRIN AND MR TRAILL 
THE DARK FOREST 
THE SECRET CITY 
THE PREL UDE toad VENTURE 
M ARABICS AT FORTY 
PORTRAIT of A man WITH 
RED HAIR 


JEREMY 

JEREMY AND HAMLET 
JEREMY A T CRALE 
THE GOLDEN SCARECROW 
THE THIRTEEN TRAVELLERS 
THE SILVER I HORN 

Belles-Lettres 

ANTHONY TROLLOPE (English 
Men of Letters) 

THE CRYSTAL BON 
THE ENGLISH NOVEL (Rede Lec- 
ture) 

READING i AnMtiay 


(With J. B, PRIESTLEY) 
FARTHING HALL: A NtvcL in 
Utter* 





ht-l tsfoj it 


JOSEPH CONRAD 




JOSEPH 

CONRAD 


By 

HUGH WALPOLE 



THIRD AND REVISED EDITION 


lonSon 

NISBET & GO. LTD. 

22 BERNERS STREET, W. 



Note to Third Edition 

1 have not thought it necessary to make any drastic 
corrections in this study since Oonrad's death. Some 
slight revisions have been made, but I stand for the 
most part by the book as 1 1 originally stood. 

H . W. 


first published , 
Septinted (Swisci) , 

» ii 


June 1916 
May 198U 

December 1999 




CONTENTS 

PAGE 

I. 

Biography .... 

. . 7 

II. Tee Novelist . 

. . 36 

III. 

The Poet .... 

. 72 

IV. 

Komance and Realism 

. . 106 


A Short Bibliogbaphy . 

. . 121 


American Bibliogbaphy . 

. 123 


Index .... 

. . 125 


5 



TO 

SIR SIDNEY COLVIN 

IN FRIENDSHIP 



I 


BIOGRAPHY 


<y — -f- ^O any reader of the books of Joseph 
1 Conrad it must be at once plain that 
his immediate erpenences 'aSdTnv 


pressions of life have go ne very d irectly to 
the making of his art. It may happenoften 


enough that an author ’s artist ic life is of no 
importance to the 'c ntic and that his dea ling 
wRH it Is merely aTpersonal impertinence and 
curiosity, but with f K^Iife of"Jds ephXlon- 
rad the critic has something lo"5o, be ca use, 
agam~and~lbgain, this wr iter del iberately 
evokes the power of person al rem iniscence, 
charging ,it with the Jburden of his phil- 
osophy and the creation orEIs’cEaracteS 
With the details of "his fife we can not, in 
any way, Be concerhed,’ Rut with the three 


jacngroui 


against whose form and colour 



JOSEPH CONRAD 


his art lias been place d we h ave some 
compulsory connection. 

Joseph Conrad (Teodor Josef Konrad 
Karzeniowsld) was born, on 6 th December 
1857, and his birthplace was the Ukraine 
in the south of Poland. In 1862 his father, 
who had been concerned in the last Polish 
rebellion, was banished to Vologda. The 
boy lived with his mother and father there 
until his mother died, when he was sent back 
to the Ukraine. In 1870 his father died. 

Conrad was then sent to school in Cracow 
and there he remained until 1874, when, 
following an absolutely compelling impulse, 
he went to sea. In the month of May, 1878 , 
he first landed onJEnglish ground ; he knew 
at that time no English but learnt rapidly, 
and in the autumn of 1878 joined the Duke 
of Sutherland as ordinary seaman. He be- 
came a Master in the English Merchant 
Service in 1884, in which year he was 
naturalised. In 1894 he left the sea, whose 
servant he had been for nearly twenty years : 
he sent the manuscript of a novel that he 
had been writing at various periods during 
8 




BIOGRAPHY 


his sea life to Mr Fisher Unwin. With 
that publisher’s acceptance of Almayers 
Folly the third period of his life began. 
Since then his history has been the history 
of his books. 

Looking for an instant at the dramatic 
c hntrast and s^hnost ironical relationship 
oF these ‘"three' backgrounds — P oland , the i 
Sea, the inner se curity and tradition of an i 
English counSy^ide^ 
th ey., may make'~of 'anTartist That early 
Polish atmo sphere, viewed through all the 
deep light amTEg h shacle~of a remembered 
c SHEobct^ mayHSe e nou gh to give life and 
vigour to any poet’s temperament . The 
romantic melanchol} - born of early y ears in 
sucEYiTatmosp here might well plant d eeply 
in any soul the ironic con templa tion o f an 
impossible freedom. 

Growing into youth in a land whose 
farthest bounds were, held by unlawful 
tyranny, Conrad may well have contem- 
plated the sea as the one unlimited mon- 
archy of freedom and, even although he 
were too young to realise what impulses 
9 




JOSEPH CONRAD 


those were that drove him, he may have felt 
Hiat space and size and the force of a power 
Stronger than man were the only conditions 
of possible liberty. He sought those con- 
ditions, found them and clung to them ; he 
found, too, an ironic pity for men who 
could still live slaves and prisoners to other 
men when to them also such freedom was 
possible. That ironic pity he never after- 
wards lost, and the romance that was in him 
received a mighty impulse from that con- 
trast that he was always now to contem- 
plate. He discovered the Sea and paid to 
her at once his debt of gratitude and 
obedience. He thought it n o h ard t hin g to 
obey her when he mi ght, a t the same time, 
so honestly admire” her and she has re- 
mained f or ~him, as an artist, the only 
person ality that he h as been able whole-_ 
heartedly to ad mire. He found in her 
something stronger than man and he must 
have triumphed in the contemplation of the 
dominion that she could exercise, if she 
would, over the tyrannies that he had known 
in his childhood. 


10 



BIOGRAPHY 


He found, too, in her service, the type of 
man who, most strongly, appealed to him. 
He had known a world composed of threats, 
fugitive rebellions, wild outbursts of defiance, 
inefficient struggles against tyranny. He 
was in the company now of those who 
realised so completely the relationship of 
themselves and their duty to their master 
and their service that there was simply 
nothing to be said about it. England had, 
perhaps, long ago called to him with her 
promise of freedom, and now on an English 
ship he realised the practice and perform- 
ance of that freedom, indulged in, as it was, 
with the fewest possible words. Moreover, 
with his fund of romantic imagination, he 
must have been pleased by the contrast of 
his present company, men who, by sheer 
lack of imagination, ruled and served the 
most imaginative force in nature. The 
wonders of the sea, by day and by night, 
were unnoticed by his companions, and he 
admired their lack of vision. Too much 
vision had driven his country under the heel 
of Tyranny, had bred in himself a despair of 
ll 




JOSEPH CONRAD 


any possible freedom for far-seeing men; 
now be was a citizen of a world where free- 
dom reigned because men could not perceive 
how it could be otherwise ; the two sides of 
the shield were revealed to him. 

Then, towards the end of his twenty years’ 
service of the sea, the creative impulse in 
him demanded an outlet. He wrote, at 
stray moments of opportunity during several 
years, a novel, wrote it for his pleasure and 
diversion, sent it finally to a publisher with 
all that lack of confidence in posts and 
publishers that every author, who cares for 
his creations, will feel to the end of his days. 
He has said that if Almayer's Folly had been 
refused he would never have written again, 
but we may well believe that, let the fate of 
that book be what it might, the energy and 
surprise of his discovery of the sea must have 
been declared to the world, AknayeFs 
Folly, however, was not rejected ; _ its pub- 
lication caused The Spectator to remark: 
“ The name of Mr Conrad is new to us, but 
it appears toN.is' ai"lFhe~rnight become the 
Kipling o-f the Malay Archipelago. ” He 
12 



BIOGRAPHY 


had, therefore, encouragement of the most 
dignified kind from the beginning. He 
himself, however, may have possibly re- 
garded that day in 1897 when Henley 
accepted The Nigger of the Narcissus for j 
The New Review as a more important date] 
in his new career. That date may serve for 
the commencement of the third period of 
his adventure. 

The quiet atmosphere of the England 
that he had adopted made the final, almost 
inevitable contrast with the earlier periods. 
With such a country behind him it was 
possible for him to contemplate in peace 
the whole “ case ” of his earlier life. It 
was as a “ case” that he saw it, a “ case” 
that was to produce all those other “ cases ” 
that were his books. This has been their 
history. 


II 

His books, also, find naturally a division 
into three parts; the first period, begin- 
ning with Almayer’s Folly in 1895, ended with 
Lord Jim in 1900. The second contains 



JOSEPH CONRAD 


the two volumes of Youth and Typhoon, 
the novel Romance that ho mote in colla- 
boration with Eord Madox I-Iueifer, and 
ends with Nostromo , published in 1903 . The 
third period begins, after a long pause, in 
1907 with The Secret Agent, and receives its 
climax with the remarkable popularity of 
Chance in 1914 , and Victory ( 1915 ). 

His first period was a p eriod of strug gle . 
str uggle_with _ a _ foreign language, struggle 
with a techniqu e that w as always, from the 
point of view of the ‘‘ schools ” to remain, 
too strong for him , struggles with the very 
force a n d power ol his reminiscences ' that 
were ur ging themselves upon him, n ow at 
the moment of tFeiFcontemplat edf f reedom, 
like wild b easts behind iron bars. AlmayeYs 
Tolly and TKe'Vuicas'Cof the Islands (the 
first of these is sequel to the second) were 
remarkable in the freshness of their dis- 
covery of a new world. It was not that 
their world had not been found before, but 
rather that Conrad, by the force of his own 
individual discovery, proclaimed his find 
with a new voice and a new vigour. In the 
14 



BIOGRAPHY 


character of Almayer, of Aissa, of Willems, 
of Babalatclii and Abdulla there was a new 
psychology that gave promise of great 
things. N everthe les s the se early stories 
were over charged wit h atm osphere, were | 
clumsy in their development and conveyed' 
in their st yle~a~~ ~ sense of rh etoric an d lack 
of ease. J5is visio n of his background was 
pulled out beyond its natural intensity ancT 
his o wn d esire to make it overwhel ming 
w as so o bvious as to frig hten th e creature 
into a determina tion to be, . simply out of 
malicious perversit y, an y thing els e. 

"These ""two novels were followed by a 
volume of short stories, Tales of Unrest, 
that reveal, quite nakedly, Conrad's diffi- 
culties. One study in this hook, The 
Return, with its redundancies and over- 
emphasis, is the cmelest parody on its author 
and no single tale in the volume succeeds. It 
was, however, as though, with these efforts, 
Conrad flung himself free, for ever, from his 
apprenticeship ; there appeared in 1898 
what remains perhaps still his most perfect 
work, The Nigger of the Narcissus. This 
15 



JOSEPH CONRAD 


was a story entirely of the sea, of the voyage 
of a ship from port to port and of the in- 
fluence upon that ship and upon the human 
souls that she contained, of the approach- 
ing shadow of death, an influence ironical, 
melancholy, never quite horrible, and always 
tender and humorous, Conrad must him- 
self have loved, beyond all other vessels, 
the Narcissus. Never again, except per- 
haps in The Minor of the Sea, was he to be 
so happily at his ease with any of his sub- 
jects. The book is a gallery of remarkably 
distinct and authentic portraits, the atmos- 
phere is held in perfect restraint, and the 
overhanging theme is never, for an instant, 
abandoned. It is, above all, a record 
of lovingly cherished reminiscence. Of 
cherished reminiscence also was the book 


that closed the first period of his work, Lord 


_ ^ his was to r emain, until the p ublica- 
tion of Chance , his most"popuIar novel. It 


_ . . . panic and his 

victorious reco very. The first half of the 
book is aT finely sustained development of a 
16 



BIOGRAPHY 


vividly remembered scene, the second half 
ias the inevitability of a moral idea pur- 
med to its romantic end rather than the 
inevitability of life. Here then in 1900 
Conrad had worked himself free of the under- 
ground of the jungle and was able to choose 
his path. His choice was still dictated by 
the subjects that he remembered most 
vividly, but upon these rewards of observa- 
tion his creative genius was working. James S 
Wait, Donkin, Jim, Marlow e were men '. 
whom he had known, but men also to whom j 
he~Ead~g lven a new b irth. 

There appeared' now in Youth, Heart of 
Darkness and Typhoon three of the finest 
short stories in the English language, work 
of reminiscence, but glowing at its heart 
with all the lyrical exultation and flame of a 
passion that had been the ruling power of a 
life that was now to be abandoned. That 
salutation of farewell is in Youth and its 
evocation of the East, in The Heart of Dark- 
ness and its evocation of the forests that 
are beyond civilisation, in Typhoon and its 
evocation of the sea. He was never, after 
b 17 




JOSEPH CONRAD 


these tales, to write again of the sea as 
though ho were still sailing on it. Prom this 
time he belonged, with regret and with some 
ironic contempt, to the land. 

This second period closed with the pro- 
duction of a work that was deliberately- 
created rather than reminiscent, Nostromo. 
Conrad may have known Dr Monyngham, 
Decoud, Mrs Gould, old Viola ; but they be- 
came stronger than he and, in their com- 
pleted personalities, owed no man anything 
for their creation. There is much to be said 
about Nostromo, in many ways the greatest 
of all Conrad’s works, but, for the moment, 
one would only say that its appearance 
(it appeared first, of all ironical births, in 
a journal — T.P.’s Weekly — and astonished 
and bewildered its readers week by week, 
by its determination not to finish and yield 
place to something simpler) caused no com- 
ment whatever, that its critics did not 
understand it, and its author’s own admirers 
were puzzled by its unlikeness to the earlier 
sea stories. 

Nostromo was followed by a pause— one 
18 




BIOGRAPHY 


can easily imagine that its production did, 
for a moment, utterly exhaust its creator. 
When, however, in 1907 appeared The Secret 
Agent, a new attitude was most plainly 
visible. He was su ddenly detached, w riting 
now of “ case s ” that interested him as an 
investigator of human_ life, hut called 
Trom his ' heart no burning participation of 
experience. Tie is tender towards Winnie 
Verloc ancT her old mother, the two women 
in The Secret Agent, but he studies them 
quite dispassionately. That love that 
clothed Jim so radiantly, that fierce con- 
tempt that in An Outcast of the Islands 
accompanied Willems to his degraded death, 
is gone. We hav e the finer arti s t, but we 
have l ost something o f that earlier com- 
pelling in terest. The Secret Agent is a tale 
of secret service in London ; it contains the 
wonderfully created figure of Yerloc and it 
expresses, to, the full, Conrad’s hatred of 
those rows and rows of bricks and mortar 
that are so completely accepted by un- 
imaginative men. In 1911 Under Western 
Byes spoke strongly of a Russian influence : 

19 




JOSEPH CONRAD 


Turgeniev and Dostoievsky had too markedly 
their share in the creation of Razumov and 
the cosmopolitan circle in Geneva. More- 
over, it is a book whose heart is cold. 

A volume of short stories, A Set of Six, 
illustrating still more emphatically Conrad’s 
new detachment, appeared in 1908 and is 
remarkable chiefly for an ironically humor- 
ous story of the Napoleonic wars — The Duel 
— a tale too long, perhaps, but admirable for 
its sustained note, In 1912 he seemed, in 
another volume, 5 Twixt Land and Sea, to 
unite some of his earlier glow with all his 
later mastery of his method. A Smile of 
Fortune and The Secret Sharer are amazing 
in the beauty of retrospect that they leave 
behind them in the soul of the reader. The 
s ea is once mor e r eveale d to us, but it is 
revealed now as somet hing that Conrad has 
conqu ered." TE Fcbnt ao t with th e 'land has 
taken~ lrom him so mething of his ^earlier 
intimacy with "his old mis tress. Neverthe- 
less The BecreTWlareflsli most marvellous 
story, marvellous in its completeness of 
theme and treatment, marvellous in the 
20 





BIOGRAPHY 


contrast between the confined limitations 
of its stage and the vast implications of 
its moral idea, Finally in 1914 appeared 
Chance, by no means the finest of his books, 
but catching the attention and admiration 
of that wider audience who had remained 
indifferent to the force and beauty of 
The Nigger of the Narcissus, of Lord Jim, 
of Nostromo. With the popular success of 
Chance the first period of his work is closed. 
On the possible results of that popularity, 
their effect on the artist and on the whole 
world of men, one must offer, here at any 
rate, no prophecy. 


ill 

To any reader who cares, seriously, to 
study the art of Joseph Conrad, no better 
advice could be offered than that he should 
begin with the reading of the two volumes 
that have been omitted from the preceding 
list. Some Reminiscences and The Mirror of 
the Sea demand consideration on the threshold 
of any survey of this author’s work, because 
21 




JOSEPH CONRAD 


they reveal, from a personal, wilful and com- 
pletely anarchistic angle, the individuality 
that can only he discovered, afterwards, 
objectively, in the process of creation. 

In both these books Conrad is, quite 
simply, himself for anyone who cares to 
read. They are books dictated by no sense 
of precedent nor form nor fashion. They are 
books of their own kind, even more than are 
the novels. Some Reminiscences has only 
Tristram Shandy for its rival in the business 
of getting everything done without moving 
a step forward. The Mirror of the Sea has 
no rival at all. 

We may suppose that the author did 
really intend to write his reminiscences when 
he began. Pie found a moment that would 
make a good starting-point, a moment in 
the writing of his first book, Almayer’s 
Tolly, at the conclusion or, more truly, 
cessation of Some Reminiscences, that 
moment is still hanging in mid-air, the writ- 
ing of Almayer has not proceeded two fines 
farther down the stage, the maid-servant is 
still standing in the doorway, the hands of 
22 




BIOGRAPHY 


lie clock have covered five minutes of the 
dial. What has occurred is simply that the 
fascination of the subject has been too strong. 
It is of the very essence of Conrad’s art that 
one thing so powerfully suggests to him 
another that to start him on anything at all 
is a tragedy, because life is so short. His 
reminiscences would be easy enough to 
command would they only not take on a life 
of their own and shout at their unfortunate 
author : “ Ah ! yes. I’m interesting, of 
course, but don’t you remember . . . ? ” 

The whole adventure of writing his first 
hook is crowded with incident, not because 
he considers it a wonderful book or himself 
a marvellous figure, but simply because any 
incident in the world must, in his eyes, be 
crowded about with other incidents. There is 
the pen one wrote the book with, that pen that 

belonged to poor old Captain B of the 

Nonsuch who ... or there is the window just 
behind the writing-table that looked out 
into the river, that river that reminds one 
of the year ’88 when . . . 

In the course of his thrilling voyage of 
23 



JOSEPH CONKAD 


discovery we are, by a kind of most blessed 
miracle, told something of Mr Nicholas B. 
and of the author’s own most fascinating 
uncle. We even, by an extension of the 
miracle, learn something of Conrad as ship’s 
officer (this the merest glimpse) and as a 
visitor to his uncle’s house in Poland. 

So by chance are these miraculous facts 
and glimpses that we catch at them with 
eager, extended hands, praying, imploring 
them to stay; indeed those glimpses may 
seem to us the more wonderful in that they 
have been, by us, only partially realised. 

Nevertheless, in spite of its eager incoher- 
ence, .at the same time both breathless, and, 
by the virtue of its author’s style, sole'mn, 
we do obtain, in addition to our glimpses of 
Poland and the sea, one or two revelations 
of Conrad himself. Our revelations come to 
us partly through our impression of his own 
zest for life, a zest always ironical, often 
sceptical, hut always eager and driven by a 
throbbing impulse of vitality. Partly also 
through certain deliberate utterances, He 
tells us: 


24 




BIOGRAPHY 


“ Those who read me know my conviction 
that the world, the temporal world, rests on 
a few very simple ideas ; so simple that they 
must be as old as the hills. It rests, notably, 
amongst others, on the ideaTof .Fidelity, At 
aTTirne when nothing which is not revolu- 
tionary in some way or other can expect to 
attract much attention I have not been 
_ revolutionary in my writings.” (Page 20.) 

Or again: 

“ All claim to special righteousness 
awakens in me that scorn and anger from 
which a philosophical nund should be free.” 
(Page 21.) 

Or again: 

“ Even before the most seductive reveries 
I have remained mindful of that sobriety of 
interior life, that asceticism of sentiment, in 
which alone the naked form of truth, such 
as one conceives it, such as one feels it, can 
Lbe rendered without shame.’ 9 (Page 194.) - 

This simplicity, this fidelity, this hatred 
pf self-assertion and self-satisfaction, this 1 
sobriety — these "qualities do give some im- 
plication of the colour of the work that will 
25 






JOSEPH CONRAD 


arise fro m, th em ; and when to t hese qualities 
we add that b efore-mentioned zest and vigour 
we must have some trite conception of the 
nature of the work that he was to do. 

It is for this that Some Reminiscences is 
valuable. To read it as a detached work, 
to expect from it the amiable facetiousness 
of a book of modern memories or the heavy 
authoritative coherence of the My Auto- 
biography or My Life of some eminent 
scientist or theologian, is to be most 
grievously disappointed. 

If the beginning is bewilderment the end 
is an impression of crowding, disordered life, 
of a tapestry richly dark, with figures woven 
into the very thread of it and yet starting to 
life with an individuality all their own. No 
book reveals more clearly the reasons both 
of Conrad’s faults and of his merits. No 
book of his is more likely by reason of its 
honesty and simplicity to win him true 
friends. As a work of art there is almost 
everything to be said against it, except that 
it has that supreme gift that remains, at the 
end, almost all that we ask of any work of 
26 




BIOGRAPHY 


art, overwhelming vitality. But it is form- 
less, ragged, incoherent, inconclusive, a 
fragment of eager, vivid, turbulent reminis- 
cence poured into a friend’s ear in a moment 
of sudden confidence. That may or may 
not be the best way to conduct reminis- 
cences; the book remains a supremely 
intimate, engaging and enlightening intro- 
duction to its author. 

With The Minor of the Sea we are on very 
different ground. As I have already said, 
this is Conrad’s happiest book — indeed, with 
the possible exception of The Nigger of the 
Narcissus, his only happy book. He is j 
happy because he is able, for a moment, to) 
forget his distrust, his dread, his inherent - 
ironical pessimism. He is bere permitting 
himself the whole range of his enthusiasm 
and admiration, and behind that enthusiasm 
there is a quiet, sure confidence that is 
strangely at variance with the distrust of 
his later novels. 

The book seems at first sight to be a 
collection of almost haphazard papers, with 
such titles as Landfalls cmd Departures, 
27 




JOSEPH CON HAD 


Overdue and Missing , Rulers of East and 
West, The Nursery of the Craft. No reader, 
however, can conclude it without having 
conveyed to him a strangely binding im- 
pression of Unity. He has been led, it will 
seem to him, into the very heart of the 
company of those who know the Sea as she 
really is, he has been made free of a great 
order. 

The foundation of his intimacy springs 
from three sources — the majesty, power and 
cruelty of the Sea herself, the homely reality 
of the lives of the men who serve her, the 
vibrating, beautiful life of the ships that sail 
upon her. This is the Trilogy that holds in 
its hands the whole life and pageant of the 
sea; it is because Conrad holds all three 
elements in exact and perfect balance that 
this book has its unique value, its power 
both of realism, for this is the life of man, 
and of romance, which is the life of the sea. 

Conrad’s attitude to the Sea herself, in 
this book, is one of lyrical and passion- 
ate worship. He sees, with all the vivid 
accuracy of his realism, her deceits, her 
28 




BIOGRAPHY 


cruelties, her inhuman disregard of the lives 
of men, but, finally, her glory is enough for 
tiim. He will write of her like this : 

“ The sea — this truth must be confessed — 
has no generosity, No display of manly quali- 
ties — courage, hardihood, endurance, faith- 
fulness — has ever been known to touch its 
irresponsible consciousness of power. The 
ocean has the conscienceless temper of a 
savage autocrat spoiled by much adulation. 
He cannot brook the slightest appearance of 
defiance, and has remained the irreconcil- 
able enemy of ships and men ever since ships 
and men had the unheard-of audacity to go 
afloat together in the face of his frown . . , 
the most amazing wonder of the deep is its 
unfathomable cruelty.” 

' Nevertheless she holds him her most will- 
ing slave, and he is that because he believes 
that she alone in all the world is worthy to 
indulge this cruelty. She positively “ brings 
it off,” this assertion of her right, and once 
he is assured of that, he will yield absolute 
obedience. In this worship of the Sea and 
the winds that rouse her he allows himself a 
29 


JOSEPH CONRAD 


lyrical freedom that he was afterwards to 
cheek. He was never again, not even in 
Typhoon and Youth , to write with such free 
and spontaneous lyricism as in his famous 
passage about the “ West Wind.” 

The Minor of the Sea forms then the best 
possible introduction to Conrad’s work, 
because it attests, more magnificently and 
more confidently than anything else that he 
has written, his faith and his devotion. It 
presents also, however, in its treatment of 
the second element of his subject, the men 
on the ships, many early sketches of the 
characters whom he, both before and after- 
wards, developed so fully in his novels. 
About these same men there are certain 
characteristics to be noticed, characteristics 
that must be treated more fully in a later 
analysis of Conrad’s creative power, but 
that nevertheless demand some mention 
here as witnesses of the emotions, the 
humours, the passions that he, most natur- 
ally, observes. It is, in the first place, to be 
marked that almost all the men upon tfm 

sea, from “ poor Captain B , who used 

30 



BIOGRAPHY 


to sutler from sick headaches, in. his young 
days, every time he was approaching a 
coast,” to the dramatic Dominic (“ from 
the slow, imperturbable gravity of that 
broad-chested man you would think he had 
never smiled in his life”), are silent and 
thoughtful. Granted this silence , Co nrad 
in hi s half-mournful, half -humorous su rvey, 
is instantly attracted by any possible com 
trast? ""Captain hP — dying in his home, 
with two grave, elderly women sitting beside 
him in the quiet room, “ his eyes resting 
fondly upon the faces in the room, upon the 
pictures on the wall, upon all the familiar 
objects of that home whose abiding and 
clear image must have flashed often on his 
memory in times of stress and anxiety at 

sea” — “poor P ,” with “his cheery 

temper, his admiration for the jokes in 
Punch , his little oddities — like his strange 
passion for borrowing looking-glasses, for 
instance ” — that captain who “ did every- 
thing with an air which put your attention on 
the alert and raised your expectations, but the 
result somehow was always on stereotyped 
31 



JOSEPH CONRAD 


lines, unsuggestive, empty of any lesson that 
one could lay to heart” — that other captain 
in whom “ through a touch of self-seeking 
that modest artist of solid merit became 
untrue to his temperament ” — here are little 
sketches for those portraits that afterwards 
we are to know so well, Marlowe, Captain 
M ‘Whirr, Captain L ingard, Captain Mitchell 
and many others. Here we may fancy 
that his eye lingers as though in the mere 
enumeration of little oddities and contrasted 
qualities he sees such themes, such subjects, 
such “ cases” that it is hard, almost beyond 
discipline, to leave them. Nevertheless 
they have to be left. He has obtained his 
broader contrast by his juxtaposition of the 
curious muddled jumble of the human life 
against the broad, august power of the Sea 
— that is all that his present subject de- 
mands, that is his theme and his picture. 

Not all his theme, however ; there re- 
mains the third element in it, the soul of the 
ship. It is, perhaps, after all, with the life 
of the ship that The Mirror of the Sea, 
ultimately, has most to do. 

32 


BIOGRAPHY 


As other men write of t he wo ma n they 
have love d, so d oes Conrad write o f bis i 
sh ips. He sees them, in this hook that is , 
so especially dedicated to their pride and 
beauty, coloured with a fine glow of romance, 
but nevertheless he realises them with all 
the accurate detail of a technician who 
describes his craft. Yon may learn of the 
raising and letting go of an anchor, and he 
will tell the journalists of their crime in 
speaking of “ casting ” an anchor when the 
true technicality is “brought up” — “to 
an anchor ” understood. In the chapter on 
“ Yachts ” he provides as much technical 
1 detail as any book of instruction need de~ 
mand and then suddenly there come these 
sentences — “ the art of handling ships is 
finer, perhaps, than the art of handling 
men.” . . . “ A ship is a creature which we 
have brought into the world, as it were on 
purpose to keep us up to mark.” 

Indeed it is the ship that gives that final 
impression of unity, of which I have already 
spoken, to the book. She grows, as it were, 
from her birth, in no ordered sequence of 
o 33 



JOSEPH CONEAD 


events, but admitting us ever more closely 
into lier intimacy, telling us, at first shyly, 
afterwards more boldly, little things about 
herself, confiding to us her trials, appealing 
sometimes to our admiration, indulging 
"sometimes our humour, Conrad is tender 
to her as he is to nothing human. He 
watches her shy, new, in the dock, “ her 
reputation all to make yet in the talk of the 
seamen who were to share their life with 
her.” . . . “ She looked modest to me. I 
imagined her diffident, lying very quiet, 
with her side nestling shyly against the wharf 
to which she was made fast with very new 
lines, intimidated by the company of her' 
tried and experienced sisters already familiar 
with all the violences of the ocean and the 
exacting love of men.” 

Her friend stands there on the quay and 
bids hex be of good courage ; he salutes her 
grace and spirit — he echoes, with all the 
implied irony of contrast, his companion’s 
“ Ships are all right. ...” 

He explains the many kinds of ships that 
there are — the rogues, the wickedly malicious, 
Zi 


BIOGRAPHY 


the sly, the benevolent, the proud, the 
adventurous, the staid, the decorous. Bor 
even the worst of these he has indulgences 
that he would never offer to the soul of man. 
He cannot be severe before such a world of 
fine spirits. 

Finally, in the episode of the Tremolino 
and her tragic end (an end that has in it a 
suggestion of that later story, Frey a of the 
Seven Islands), in that sinister adventure of 
Dominic and the vile Caesar, he shows us, in 
miniature, what it is that he intends to do 
with all this material. He gives us the soul 
of the Tremolino, the soul of Dominic, the 
soul of the sea upon which they are voyag- 
ing. Without ever desertin g the re alism 
upon which he builds his foundations he 
raises upon it his house of r omance. 

This book remains by far the easiest, the 
kindest, the most friendly of all his books. 
He has been troubled here by no questions 
of form, of creation, of development, whether 
of character or of incident. 

It is the best of all possible prologues to 
his more creative work. 

36 




II 

THE NOVELIST 

i 

I N discussing the art of any novelist 
as distinct from the poet or essayist 
there are three special questions that 
we may ask — as to the Theme, as to the 
Form, as to the creation of Character, 

It is possible to discuss these three ques- 
tions in terms that can be applied, in no 
fashion whatever, to the poem or the essay, 
although the novel may often more truly 
belong to the essay or the poem to the novel, 
as, for instance, The Ring and the Booh and 
Aurora Leigh bear witness. All such ques- 
tions of ultimate classes and divisions arc 
vain, but these three divisions of Theme, 
Form and Character do cover many of the 
questions that are to be asked about any 
novelist simply in his position as novelist 
36 



THE NOVELIST 


and nothing else. That Joseph Conrad is, 
in his art, most truly poet as well as novelist 
no reader of his work will deny. I wish, 
in this "chapter, to consider him simply as 
a novelist — that is, as a narrator of the 
histories of certain human beings, with his 
attitude to those histories. 

Concerning the form of the novel the 
English novelists, until the seventies and 
eighties of the’ nineteenth century, worried 
the mselves but slightly^ If they con- 
sidered the matter they chuckled over their 
deliberate freedom, as did Sterne and 
Fielding. Scott considered story-telling a 
jolly business in which one was, also, happily 
able to make a fine living, but be never 
contemplated the matter with any respect. 
Jane Austen, who bad as much form as 
any modem novelist, was quite unaware of 
her happy possession. The mid-Victorians 
gloriously abandoned themselves to the rich 
independence of shilling numbers, a fashion 
which forbade Form as completely as the 
manners of the time forbade frankness. A 
new period began at the end of the fifties; 

37 


JOSEPH CONRAD 





THE NOVELIST 


Mr Wells, in addition to fantastic romances, 
wrote stories about shop assistants and 
knew something about biology. The Fabian 
Society made socialism entertaining. Mr 
Bernard Shaw foreshadowed a new period 
and the Boer War completed an old one. 

Of the whole question of Conrad’s place 
in the history of the English novel and his 
influence upon it I wish to speak in a later 
chapter. I would simply say here that if he 
was borne in upon the wind of the French 
influence he was himself, in later years, one 
of the chief agents in its destruction, but, 
beginning to write in English as he did in 
the time of The Yellow Book, passing 
through all the realistic reaction that fol- 
lowed the collapse of geatheticism, seeing the 
old period washed away by the storm of 
the Boer War, he had, especially prepared 
for him, a new stage upon which to labour. 
The time and the season were ideal for the 
work that he had to do. 


39 




JOSEPH CONRAD 


ii 

The form in which Conrad has chosen 
:,o develop his narratives is the question 
which must always come first in any con- 
sideration of him as a novelist ; the question 
of his form is t he ground upon which he has 
been most frequent ly attacked. 

His difficulties in this matter have all 
arisen, as I have already suggested,^ from his 
absorbing interest m life. Let us imagine, 
for an instant, an imaginary case. He has 
seen in Some foreign port a quarrel between 
two seamen. One bas “ knifed” the other, 
and the quarrel has been watched, with 
complete indifference, by a young girl and 
a bibulous okh wastrel who is obviously a 
relation both of hers and of the stricken sea- 
man. The author sees here a case for his 
art and, wishing to give us the matter with 
the greatest possible truth and accuracy, 
he begins, oratio recta, by the narration of 
a little barber whose shop is just over the 
spot where the quarrel took place and whose 
lodgers the old man and the girl are. He 
40 




THE NOVELIST 


describes the little barber and is, at once, 
amazed by tbe interesting facts that be dis- 
covers about tbe man. Seen standing in 
bis doorway be is tbe most ordinary little 
figure, but once investigate bis case and you 
find a strange contrast between bis melan- 1 
cboly romanticism and tbe flashing fanati- 
cism of bis love for the young girl who lodges 
with him. That leads one back, through 
many years, to tbe moment of bis first 
meeting with tbe bibulous old man, and 
for a witness of that we must bunt out a 
villainous old woman who keeps a drinking 
saloon in another part of tbe town. This old 
' woman, now so drink-sodden and degraded, 
bad once a history of her own. Once she 


was . . . 

And so tbe matter continues. It is not 
so much a debberate evocation of tbe most 
difficult of methods, this manner of narra- 


tion, as a poignant witness to Conrad’s own 
breathless surprise at bis discoveries, ^ Mr 
Henry James, sp ea king of this enforced* 
collection of orato rical witnesses, s ays: 
“ It places Mr Conrad absol utely a lone as a 




JOSEPH CONRAD 


vot ary of the way to do a thing that shall 
make it undergo most doing,” and his 
amazement at Conrad’s patient pursuit of 
unneeded difficulties may seem to us the 
stranger if we consider that in What Maisie 
Knew and The Awkward Age he has practised 
almost precisely the same form hims elf. 
Indeed "beside the intricate "but masterly 
form of The Awkward Age the duplicate 
narration of Chance seems child’s-play. 
Mr Henry James makes the mistake of 
speaking as though Conrad had quite de- 
liberately chosen the form of narration that 
^was most difficult to him, simply for the fun 
1 of overcoming the difficulties, the truth being | 
that he has chosen the easiest, the form of' 
narration brought straight from the sea and i 
the ships that he adored, the form of narra- 
tion used by the Ancient Mariner and all 
the seamen before and after him. Conrad 
must have his direct narrator, because that 




THE NOVELIST 


him. He must have it by word of mouth, 
because it is by word of mouth that he 
himself has always demanded it, and if one 
witness is not enough for the truth of it then 
must he have two or three. 

Consider for a moment the form of three 
of his most important novels: Lord Jim, j 
Nostromo and Chance. It is possible that 
Lord Jim was conceived originally as a 
sketch of character, derived by the author 
from one scene that was, in all probability, 
an actual reminiscence. Certainly, when 
the book is finished, one scene beyond all 
others remains with the reader; the scene 
of the inquiry into the loss of the Patna, or 
rather the vision of Jim and his appalling 
companions waiting outside for the inquiry 
to begin. Simply in the contemplation of 
these four men Conrad has his desired con- 
trast ; the skipper of the Patna : “ He made 
me think of a trained baby elephant walk- 
ing on hind- legs. He was extravagantly 

gorgeous too — got up in a soiled sleeping- 
suit, bright green and deep orange vertical 
Stripes, with a pair of ragged straw slippers 
43 




£ 


JOSEPH CONE AD 


on his bare feet, and somebody’s cast-off 
pitb bat, very dirty and two sizes too small 
for him, tied up with a mamlla rope-yarn 
on the top of his big head.” There are also 
two other “ no-account chaps with him” — 
a sallow-faced mean little chap with his arm 
in a sling, and a long individual in a blue 
flannel coat, as dry as a chip and no stouter 
than a broomstick, with drooping grey 
moustaches, who looked about him with 
an air of jaunty imbecility, and, with these 
three, Jim, “ clean-limbed, clean-faced, firm 
on his feet, as promising a boy as the sun 
ever shone on.’ ’ Here are these four, in the 
same box, condemned for ever by all right- 
thinking men. That boy in the same box 
as those obscene scoundrels! At once the 
artist has fastened on to his subject, it 
bristles with active, vital possibilities and 
discoveries. We, the observers, share the 
! artis t’s thrill. We wa tch our author dart 
Upon a subject with the ^excitement of 
adventu rers dis cov ering a gold-mine. How 
much will it jielcf? How deep~wilf it go ? 
We are tkriffed_with th e suspense. , 

44 




THE NOVELIST 


Conrad, haying discovered his subject, 
must, for the satisfaction of that honour 
which is his most deeply cherished virtue, 
prove to us his authenticity. “ I was not 
there myself,” he tells us, “ but I can show 
you someone who was.” He introduces us 
to a first-hand witness, Marlowe or another. 
“ Now tell your story.” He has at once 
the atmosphere in wine, he is happiest, and 
so, having his audience clustered about him, 
unlimited time at everyone’s disposal, 
whiskies and cigars without stint, he lets 
himself go. He is bothered now by no 
question but the thorough investigation of 
1 his discovery. What had Jim done that he 
should be in such a case ? We must have 
the story of the loss of the Patna, that 
marvellous journey across the waters, all the 
world of the pilgrims, the obscene captain 
and Jim’s fine, chivalrous soul. Marlowe is 
inexhaustible. He has so much to say and 
so many fine words in which to say it. At 
present, so absorbed are we, so successful 
is be, that we are completely held. The 
illusion is perfect. We come to. the inquiry, 
45 



JOSEPH CONRAD 


One of the judges is Captain Brierley. 

“ What ! not know Captain Brierley ! Ah ! 
but I must tell you ! Most extraordinary 
thing ! ” 

The world grows around us ; a world that 
can contain the captain of the Patna, 
Brierley and Jim. at the same time ! The 
subject before us seems now so rich that we 
are expecting to see it burst, at any moment, 
in the author’s hands, but so long as that 
first visualised scene is the centre of the 
episode, so long as the experience hovers 
round that inquiry and the Esplanade out- 
side it, we are held, breathless and believing. 
We believe even in the eloquent Marlowe. ' 
Then the moment passes. Every possible 
probe into its heart has been made. We are 
satisfied. 

There follows then the sequel, and here 
at once the weakness of the method is 
apparent. The author having created his 
narrator must continue with him. Mar- 
lowe is there, untired, eager, waiting to- 
begin again. But the trouble is that we are 
no longer assured now of the truth and 
16 



THE NOVELIST 


reality of his story. He saw— we cannot 
for an instant doubt it— that group on the 
Esplanade ; all that he could tell us about 
that we, breathlessly, awaited. But now 
we are uncertain whether he is not invent- 
ing a romantic sequel. He must go on— 
that is the truly terrible thing about Mar- 
lowe — and at the moment when we question 
his authenticity we are suspicious of his 
very existence, ready to be irritated by his 
flow of words demanding something more 
authentic than that voice that is now only 
dimly heard. The author himself perhaps 
feels this ; he duplicates, he even trebles his 
i narrators and with each fresh agent raises 
a fresh crop of facts, contrasts, habits and 
? histories. That then is t he pe ril of the 
method. Whilst w e believe we are com- 
pletely held, but let the authenticity waver 
for a mom ent and, the dan ger of disaste r is 
more excessive than with any other possible 
form of" narration. Create your authority 
and We have at onee someone at whom we 
may throw stones if we are not beguiled. 
Marlowe has certainly been compelled to 
47 


JOSEPH CONRAD 


face, at moments in Ms career, an angry, 
irritated audience. 

Nostromo is, for the reason that we never 
lose our confidence in the narrator, a triumph- 
ant vindication of these methods. That is 
not to deny that Nostromo is extremely 
confused in places, but it is a confusion 
that arises rather from. Conrad’s confidence 
in the reader’s fore-knowledge of the facts 
than in a complication of narrations. The 
narrations are sometimes complicated — old 
Captain Mitchell does not always achieve 
authenticity — but on the whole the reader 
may be said to be puzzled, simply because 
he is told so much about some things and so 
little about others. 

But this assurance of the author’s that we 
must have already learnt the main facts of 
the case comes from his own convinced 
sense of the reality of it. This time he has 
no Marlowe. He was there himself. “ Of 
course,” he says to us, “ you know all about 
that revolution in Sulaoo, that revolution 
that the Goulds were mixed up with. Well, 
X happened to be there myself. I know all 
48 




THE NOVELIST 


the people concerned, and the central figure 
was not Gould, nor Mitchell, nor Monyng- 
haln— no, it was a man about whom no one 
outside the republic was told a syllable. I 
knew the man well. . . . He ...” and 
there we all are. 

The method is, in this case, as I have 
already said, completely successful. There 
may be confusions, there may be scenes 
concerning which we may be expected to be 
told much and are, in truth, told nothing at 
all, but these confusions and omissions do, 
in the end, only add to our conviction of 
the veracity of it. No one, after a faithful 
•perusal of Nostromo, can possibly doubt of 
the existence of Sulaco, of the silver mine, 
of Nostromo and Decoud, of Mrs Gould, 
Antonio, the Viola girls, of old Viola, Hirsch, 
Monyngham, Gould, Sotillo, of the death of 
Viola’s wife, of the expedition at night in 
the painter, of Decoud alone on the Isabels, 
of Hirsch’ s torture, of Captain Mitchell’s 
watch— here are characters the most 
romantic in the world, scenes that would 
surely, in any other hands, be fantastic 
D 4:9 



JOSEPH CONRAD 


melodrama, and both characters and scenes 
are absolutely supported on the foundation 
of realistic truth. Not for a moment from 
the first page to the last do we consciously 
doubt the author’s word. . . . Here the 
form of narration is vindicated because it is 
entirely convincing. 

Not so with the third example, Chance. 
Here, as with Lord Jim , we may find one 
visualised moment that stands for the whole 
book and as in the earlier work we look 
back and see the degraded officers of the 
Patna waiting with Jim on the Esplanade, 
so our glance back over Chance reveals to 
us that moment when the Eynes, from the 
security of their comfortable home, Watch 
Elora de Barrel flying down the steps of 
her horrible Brighton house as though the 
Furies pursued her. That desperate flight 
is the key of the book. The moment of 
the chivalrous Captain Anthony’s rescue of 
Flora from a world too villainous for her 
and too double-faced for him gives the 
book’s theme, and never in all the stories 
that preceded Flora’s has Conrad been so 
50 


THE NOVELIST 


eager to afford us first-hand witnesses. We 
have, in the first place, the unquenchable 
Marlowe sitting, with fine phrases at his lips, 
in a riverside inn. To him enter Powell, 
who once served with Captain Anthony; 
to these two add the little Eynes; there 
surely you have enough to secure your 
alliance. But it is precisely the number of 
witnesses that frightens us. Marlowe, un- 
aided, would have been enough for us, more 
than enough if we are to consider the author 
himself as a possible narrator. But not 
only docs the number frighten us, it posi- 
tively hides from us the figures of Captain 
’ Anthony and Flora de Barrel. Both the 
Knight and the Maiden — as the author 
names them — are retiring souls, and our 
hearts move in sympathy for them as we 
contemplate their timid hesitancy before 
the voluble inquisitions of Marlowe, young 
Powell and the Eynes. Moreover, the in- 
tention of this method that it should secure 
realistic conviction for the most romantic 
episodes does not here achieve its purpose, 
as we have seen that it did in the first half of 
61 




JOSEPH CONRAD 


Lord Jim and the whole of Nostromo. We 
believe most emphatically in that first 
narration of young Powell’s about his first 
chance. We believe in the first narration of 
Marlowe, although quite casually he talks 
like this : “ I do not even think that there 
was in what he did a conscious and lofty con- 
fidence in himself, a particularly pronounced 
sense of power which leads men so often into 
impossible or equivocal situations.” We 
believe in the horrible governess (a fiercely 
drawn figure). We believe in Marlowe’s 
interview with Flora on the pavement out- 
side Anthony’s room. 

We believe in the whole of the first half of 
the book, but even here we are conscious 
that we would prefer to be closer to the whole 
thing, that it would be pleasant to hear 
Flora and Anthony speak for themselves, 
that we re sent, a little, Marlo we’s intima cy 
which prevents , wi th patr onising com- 
plaisance, t he intim ac y that we, the r eaders, 
might have secured. Nevertheless we are 
so far held, we are captur ed. 

”"But~when the second' half of the book 
B2 




TI-IE NOVELIST 


arrives we can be confident no longer. 
Here, as in Lord Jim, it_is possible to feel 
that Conrad, liaving surprised, seized upon, 
mastered bis original moment, did not know 
How" to continue^ it. Tbe true thing in Lord 
Jim is the affair of the Patna ; the true thing 
in Chance is Captain Anthony’s rescue of 
Flora after her disaster. But whereas in 
Lord Jim the sequel to Jim’s cowardice has 
its own fine qualities of beauty and imaging; 
tio n, the sequel to Captain Anthony’s rescue 
of Flora seems to one listener at any rate 
a pitiably unconvincing climax of huddled 
melodrama. That chapter in Chance en- 
titled A Moonless Night is, in the first 
half of it, surely the worst thing that 
Conrad ever wrote, save only that one early 
short story, The Return. The conclusion 
of Chance and certain tales in his volume, 
Within the Tides, make one wonder whether 
that alliance between romance^ and realfsnH 
that he Has i Hitherto so wonderfully main- 
tained is not breaking down before the 

two 


baleful strength of the fo rmer of these 


63 




JOSEPH CONRAD 


It remains only to be said that when 
credence so entirely fails, as it must before 
the end of Chance, the form of narration in 
Oratio Recta is nothing less than maddening. 
Suddenly we do not believe in Marlowe, in 
Powell, m the Eynes : we do not believe even 
in Anthony and Elora. We are the angrier 
because earlier in the evening we were so 
completely taken in. It is as though we had 
giv en o ur mon ey to a deserving cause and 
discov ered"a~~charIatan.~~ 

I have described at length the form in 
which the themes of these books are developed, 
because it is the form that, here extensively, 
here quite unobtrusively, clothes all the 
novels and tales. We are caught and held 
by the skinny fing er of the~5ncient Mariner. 
When he has a true~tale"’to' tell us his veri- 
table presence is a n adcndzest to our pleasure. 
But, if hi s presence~Re~ not true . . 1 

m 

If we turn to the themes that engage 
Joseph Conrad’s attention we shall see that 
54 



THE NOVELIST 


in almost every case his subjects are con- 
cerned with unequal com b ats — unequal to 
his own far-s eeing vision , hut neve r to the 
huma n souls engaged in them, and it is this 
consciousness of the blindnes s that re nders 

men’ s hones ty and her oism of so little 

accotin F that gives occasion for h is i rony. 
He choo ses, in almost e very case, the most 
solid and uni maginat ive of human beings for 
his heroes, and it seems that it is these men 
alone whom he can admire. “ If a human 
soul has vision he simply gives the thing up,” 
we can hear him say. “ lie can see at once 
that the odds are too strong for him. But 
these simple souls, with their consciousness 
of the job before them and nothing else, with 
their placid sense of honour and of duty, 
Upon them yon may loosen all heaven’s bolts 
an rl lightnings and they will not quail.” 
They command his pity, his reverence, his 
tenderness, almost his love. But at the end, 
with an ironic shrug of his shoulders, he says : 
“You see. I told you so. He may even 
think he has won. We know better, you 
and I.” 


65 



JOSEPH CONRAD 


The theme of Almayer’s Folly is a struggle 
of a weak man against nature, of The Nigger 
of the Narcissus the struggle of many simple 
men against the presence of death, of Lord 
Jim , ag ain, the stru ggle of a simple man 
against nature (h ere t he man wins, hut only, 
we feel, at the cost of truth) . Nostromo, the 
conquest of a child of nature by the silver 
mine which stands over him, conscious of 
its ultimate victory, from the very first. 
Chance, the struggle of an absolutely simple 
and upright soul against the dishonesties 
of a world that he does not understand. 
Typhoon, the very epitome of Conrad’s 
themes, is the struggle of M‘ Whirr against 
the storm (here again it is W Whirr who 
apparently wins, but we can hear, in the 
very last line of the book, the storm’s con- 
fident chuckle of ultimate victory). In 
Heart of ‘Darkness the victory is to the forest. 
In The End of the Tether Captain Whalley, 
,, one of Conrad’s finest figures, is beaten by 
the very loftiness of his character. The 
three tales in 'Twixt Land and Sea are ali 
themes of this kind— the struggle of simple, 
56 




THE NOVELIST 


unimaginative men against forces too strong 
for them. In The Secret Agent Winnie 
Verloc, another simple character, finds life 
too much for her and commits suicide. In 
Under Western Eyes Kazumov, the dreamer, 
is destroyed by a world that laughs at 
the pains and struggles of insignificant 
individuals. 

Of Co nrad’s philosophy I must speak in 
another place : here it is enough to say that 
it”is~ impossible to imagine him choosi ng as 
the ch aracter of a story jolly, independent 
souls who take life for what it gives them 
and le ave defeat or victory to “the stars! 
" ^Whatever Conrad’s boo ks are or are not, 
it may safely b e sai d that they axe never 
jolly, and his most d ev oted disciple would, 
in all probability, resent any suggestion of a 
lighter hand or a gentler affection. His art, 
nevertheless, is limited by this persistent 
brooding ov e r the inequality of life’s battle. 
His humour, often of a very fin e kind, is 
always sinister, because his choice of theme 
forbids lighf-heartedness. , 

Tom Jones and Tris tram. Shandy w ould 
87 





JOSEPH CONRAD 


have found Marlowe, Jim and Captain 
Anthony quite impossibly solemn company 
—B ut r do not deny that they might not 
have been something thejbetter for a little. 
of i t. 

I have already said that his characters ’ 
are, for the most part, simple and unim- I 
aginative men, but that does not mean that ' 
they are so simple that there is nothing in 
them. The first thing of which one is sure I 
in meeting a number of Conrad’s characters j 
is that they have existences and histories | 
entirely independent of their introducer’s ] 
kind offices. Conrad has met them, has ; 
talked to them, has come to know them, but 1 
we are sure not only that there is very i 
much more that he could tell us about them [ 
if he had time and space, but that even when ' 
he had told us all that he knew he would . 
only have touched on the fringe of their real 
histories. 

One of the distinctions between the 
modern English novel and the mid-Victorian 
English "novel is that mod ern characters 
have but little of the robust vataIItv"of~their 
- sg 







THE NOVELIST 


pre d ecessors ; the figures in the novel of 
to-day fade so easily from the page that 
encteavohr s to keep them. 

In the novels df Mr Henry James we feel 
at times that the characters fade before the 
motives attributed to them, in those of Mr 
Wells before an idea, a curse, or a remedy, 
in those of Mr Bennett before a creeping 
wilderness of important insignificances, in 
those of Mr Galsworthy before the oppression 
of social inequalities, in those of Mrs Wharton 
before the shadow of Mr Henry James, even 
in those of Mr Hardy before the omnipo- 
tence of an inevitable God whom, in spite 
of his inevitability, Mr Hardy himself is 
arranging in the background; Jt may be 
claimed for the characters of Mr Conrad that 
they yield their solidity to no for ce, no 
powe r, not even t o their author’s o wn deter- 
mination that they are doomed, in the end, 
to defeat. 

This is not for a moment to say that 
Josep h Oonr ad is a finer novelist than these 
otheriTH^this quality he has beyond his 
contemporaries — na mely, the assu rance that 
59 






THE NOVELIST 


beginning always with the words, “ My 
darling Wife,” and relating in minute detail 
each successive trip of the Nan-Shan. Mrs 
M‘ Whirr, we learn, was “ a pretentious 
person with a scraggy neck and a disdain- 
ful manner, admittedly lady-like and in 
the neighbourhood considered as ‘ quite 
superior.’ The only secret of her life was 
her abject terror of the time when her 
husband would come home to stay for 
good.” Also in Typhoon there is the second 
mate “ who never wrote any letters, did not 
seem to hope for news from anywhere ; and 
though he had been heard once to mention 
3 West Hartlepool, it was with extreme bitter- 
ness, and only in connection with the ex- 
tortionate charges of a boarding-house.” 
How conscious we are of Jim’s English 
cou ntry parsonage, of Captain Anthony’s 
loneliness, of Marlowe’s isolation i By this 
simple thread of conn ection between^ the 
land and" tEe~sEp th e whol e ch arac ter 
stands, h uman and co nvincing, before us. 
Of the sailors on board the Akircmns there 
is not one about whom, after his landing, 
61 




JOSEPH CONRAD 


■we are not curious. There is the skipper, 
whose wife comes on board, “ A real lady, 
in a black dress and with a parasol.” 

. . . “ Very soon the captain, dressed very 
smartly and in a white shirt, went with her 
over the side. We didn’t recognise him at 
all. . . An d Mr Baker, the chief mate ! 
Is not this little farewell enough to make 
us his friends for life ? 

“No one waited for him ashore. Mother 
died; father and two brothers, Yarmouth 
fishermen, drowned together on the Dogger 
Bank; sister married and unfriendly. Quite 
a lady, married to the leading tailor of a little 
town, and its leading politician, who did not 
t hink his sailor brother-in-law quite respect- 
able enough for him. Quite a lady, quite a 
lady, he thought, sitting clown for a moment’s 
rest on the quarter-hatch. Time enough to 
go ashore and get a bite, and sup, and a bed 
somewhere. He didn’t like to part with a 
ship. No one to think about then. The 
darkness of a misty evening fell, cold and 
damp, upon the deserted deck; and Mr 
Baker sat smoking, thinking of all the 
successive ships to whom through many 
62 




THE NOVELIST 


long years he had given the best of a 
seaman’s care. And never a command in 
sight. Not once ! ” 

There are others — the abominable Don- 
kin for instance. “ Donkin entered. They 
discussed the account . . . Captain Allis - 
toun paid. 5 1 give you a bad discharge,’ 
he said quietly. Donkin raised his voice: 
‘ I don’t want your bloomin’ discharge- 
keep it. I’m goin’ ter ’ave a job hashore.’ 
He turned to us. 4 No more bloomin’ sea 
for me,’ he said, aloud. All looked at him. 
He had better clothes, had an easy air, 
« appeared more at home than any of us ; he 
stared with assurance, enjoying the effect of 
his declaration.” 

In how many novels would Do nkin’ s life 
have been limited by the part that he was 
required to play in the adventures of the 
Narcissus ? As it is our interest in his pro- 
egress has been satisfied by a prologue only. 
Ox there is Charley, the boy of the crew — 
“ As I came up I saw a red-faced, blowzy 
woman, in a grey shawl, and with dusty, 
63 




JOSEPH CONEAD 


fluffy flair, fall on Cflarley’s neck. It was 
flis motfler. Sfle slobbered over Aim: — 

‘ Ofl, my boy ! my boy ! ’ — ' ‘ Leggo me/ 
said Charley, ‘ leggo, motfler ! ’ I was 
passing Aim at tfle time, and over tfle untidy 
bead of tfle blubbering woman lie gave me a 
humorous smile and a glance ironic, courage- 
ous, and profound, that seemed to put all 
my knowledge of life to shame. I nodded 
and passed on, but heard Aim say again, 
good-naturedly : — * If you leggo of me this 
minyt — ye shall 5 ave a bob for a drink out of 
my pay.’ ” 

But one passes from these men of tfle sea 
— from M‘ ’Whirr and Baker, from Lingard 
and Captain WAalley, from Captain Anthony 
and Jim, with a_ suspic ion that tfle antflor 
will not convince us quite so readily wit h flis 
men of the land—and that suspicion is 
never entirely dismissed. About such men 
as M* Whirr and Baker he can tell us nothing 
that we will not believe. He has such sym- 
pathy and understanding for them that 
they will, we are assured, deliver up to him 
their dearest secrets— those little details, 
64 


THE NOVELIST 


M‘ Whirr’s wife, Mr Baker’s proud sister, 
Charley’s mother, are their dearest secrets. 
But with the citizens of the other world — 
with Stein, Decoud, Gould, Verloc, Bazumov, 


the sinister Nikita, the little Eynes, even the 
great Nostromo himself — we cannot b e so 
confident, s imp ly because their discoverer 
cannot yield them that same’ perfect 
sympat hy. 

His theory about these men is that they 
have, all of them, an idee fixe, that you 
must search for this patiently, honestly, un- 
sparingly — having found it, the soul of the 
man is revealed to you. But is it ? Is it 


not possible that Decoud or Verloc, feeling 
the probing finger, offer up instantly any 
idee fixe ready to hand because they wish to 
be left alone ? Decoud himself, for instance ■ 
—Decoud, the imaginative journalist in' 


Nostromo, speculating with his ironic mind 
upon romantic features, at his heart, appar- 
ently cynical and reserved, the burning 
passion for the beautiful Antonia. He has 
yielded enough to suggest the truth, but the 
truth itself eludes us. With Verloc again 
a 65 




JOSEPH OONEAH 


we have a quite masterly presentation of 
the man as OonracL sees him. That first 
description of him is wonderful, both in 
its reality and its significance. “ His eyes 
were naturally heavy, he had an air of 
having wallowed, fully dressed, all day on 
an unmade bed.” 

With many novelists that would be quite 
enough, that we should see the character as 
the author sees him, but because, in these 
histories, we have the convictions of the 
extension of the protagonists’ fives beyond 
the stated episodes, it is not enough. Be- 
cause they have lives independent of the 
covers of the book we feel that there can be , 
no end to the things that we should be told 
aboiit them, and they must be true things. 

Yerloc, for instance, is attached from the 
first to his idee fixe — -namely, that he should 
be able to retain, at all costs, his phlegmatic 
state of self-indulgence and should not be 
jockeyed opt of it. At the first sign of 
threatened change he is terrified to his very 
soul. Conrad never, for an instant, allots 
him to leave this ground upon which he has 




THE NOVELIST 


placed him. Wo see the man tied to his 
rock of an idee fixe, hut he has, nevertheless, 
we axe assured, another life, other motives, 
other humours, other terrors. It is perhaps 
a direct trib ute to the author’s re serve 
powertEat we feel,_ at the book’s close, t hat 
we s hould h ave, been told jo much m om 
Even with the great Nostromo himself we 
are not satisfied as we are with Captain 
Whalley or Mr Bates. Nostromo is surely, 
as a picture, the most romantically satisfy- 
ing figure in the English novel since Scott, 
with the single exception of Thackeray’s 
Beatrix — and here I am not forgetting 
Captain Silver, David Balfour, Catriona, 
nor, in our own immediate time, young 
Beauchamp or the hero of that amazing and 
so unjustly obscure fiction, The Shadow of a 
Titan, As a picture, Nostromo shines with 
a flaming colour, shines, as the whole novel 
shines, with a glow that is flung by the con- 
trasted balance of its romance and realism. 
Erom that first vision of him as he rides 
slowly through the crowds, in his magnificent 
dress : “ ... his hat, a gay sombrero with 
67 




JOSEPH CONRAD 


a silver cord and tassels. The bright colours 
of a Mexican scrape twisted on the cantle, 
the enormous silver buttons on the em- 
broidered leather jacket, the row of tiny 
silver buttons down the seam of the trousers, 
the snowy linen, a silk sash with embroidered 
ends, the silver plates on headstall and 
saddle . . to that last moment when— 
“ . . . in the dimly lit room Nostromo rolled 
his head slowly on the pillow and opened his 
eyes, directing at the weird figure perched 
by his bedside a glance of enigmatic and 
mocking scorn. Then his head rolled back, 
his eyelids fell, and the Capatos of the Oar- 
gadores died without a word or moan after ' 
an hour of immobility, broken by short 
shudders testifying to the most atrocious 
sufferings” — we are conscious of his superb 
figure; and after his death we do, indeed, 
believe what the last lines of the book 
assure us — ■“ In that true cry of love and 
grief that seemed to ring aloud from Punta 
Mala to Azuera and away to the bright fine 
of the horizon, overhung by a big white 
cloud shining like a mass of solid silver, the 
68 




THE NOVELIST 


genius of the magnificent Capatuz de Car- 
gadores dominated the daik gulf containing 
his conquests of treasure and love.” His 
genius dominates, yes — but it is the genius 
of a magnificent picture standing as a 
frontispiece to the book of his soul. And 
that soul is not given us — Nostromo, proud 
to the last, refuses to surrender it to us. 
Why is it that the slender sketch of old 
Singleton in The Nigger of the Narcissus 
gives us the very heart of the man, so that 
volumes might tell us more of him indeed, 
but could not surrender him to us more 
truly, and all the fine summoning of Nos- 
tromo only leaves him beyond our gpasp ? 
We believe in Nostromo, but we are told 
about him — we have not met him. 

Nevertheless, at another turn of the road, 
this criticism must seem the basest in- 
gratitude. When we look back and survey 
that crowd, so various, so distinct whether 
it be they who are busied, before our eyes, 
with the daily hfe of Sulaco, or the Verloc 
family (the most poignant scene in the 
whole of Conrad’s art — the drive in the 
69 



JOSEPH CONRAD 


cab of old Mrs Verloc, Winnie and Stevie 
— compels, additionally, our gratitude) or 
that strange gathenng, the Haldms, Nikita, 

Laspara, Madame de S , Peter Ivanovitch, 

Razumov, at Geneva, or the highly coloured 
figures in Romance (a book fine in some 
places, astonishingly second-rate m others), 
Ealk or Amy Poster, Jacobus and his 
daughter, Jasper and his lover, all these and 
so many, many more, what can we do but 
embrace the world that is offered to us, 
accept it as an axiom of life that, of all these 
figures, some will be near to us, some more 
distant ? It is, finally, a world that Con- 
rad offers us, not a series of novels in whose 
pages we find the same two or three figures 
returning to us — old friends with new faces 
and new names — but a planet that we know, 
evfcn~ai ~"we know~ the Meredith planet, the 
Hardy'planet, the James planet. 

Looking back, we may trace its towns and l 
rivers, its continents and seas, its mean) 
streets and deep valleys, its country houses, j 
its sordid hovels, its vast, untamed forests, j 
its deserts and wildernesses. Although each j 
70 




THE NOVELIST 


work, from the vast Nostromo to the 
minutely perfect Secret Share , has its new 
theme, its form, its separate heart, the 
swaiming life that he has created knows no 
boundary. And in this, surely, creation has 
accomplished its noblest work. 


n 




THE POET 


i 

r I HE poet in Conrad is lyrical as well 
| ~ ai pliirosopiuc. The lyrical s ide ia 
JL absen t in certain of his wo rks, as, 
for example , "TfieJSecret Agent, and Under 
Western Byes, or such short stories as The 
Informer, or II Conde , but the philosophic 
note so unded poeticall y, as an instrument 
of. music as we ll as a ph ilosoph y, is never 
absent. 

Three elements in the work of Conrad the 
poet as distinct from Conrad the novelist 
deserve consideration — style, atmosphere 
and philosophy. In the matter of style the 
first point that must strike any constant 
reader of the novels is the change that is to 
be marked" between the earlier works ajid the 
later. Here is a descriptive passage from' 



THE POET 

Conrad’s second novel, An Outcast of the 
Islands : 

" Pie followed her step by step till at 
last they both stopped, facing each other 
under the big tree of the enclosure. The 
solitary exile of the forests great, motion- 
less and solemn in his abandonment, left 
alone by the life of ages that had been 
pushed away from him by those pigmies 
that crept at his foot, towered high and 
straight above their leaden He seemed to 
look on, dispassionate and imposing m his 
lonely greatness, spreading his branches 
wide in a gesture of lofty protection, as if 
to hide them in the sombre shelter of. 
^innumerable leaves; as if moved by the 
disdainful compassion of the strong, by the 
scornful pity of an aged giant, to screen 
this struggle of two human hearts from the 
cold scrutiny of glittering stars.” 

An d then from Chance : 

“ The very sea, with short flashes of foam 
bursting out here and there in the gloomy 
distances, the unchangeable, _ safe sea 
sheltering a man from all passions, except 
its own anger, seemed queer to the quick 
73 




JOSEPH CONRAD 


glance lie tkfew to windward when the 
already effaced horizon traced no reassnring 
limit to the eye. In the expiring diffused 
twilight, and before the clouded night 
dropped its mysterious veil, it was the 
immensity of space made visible — almost 
palpable, Young Powell felt it. He felt 
it in the sudden sense of his isolation ; the 
trustworthy, powerful ship of his first ac- 
quaintance reduced to a speck, to some- 
thing almost undistinguishable. The mere 
support for the soles of his two feet before 
that unexpected old man becoming so 
suddenly articulate in a darkening uni- 
verse.” 

It must be remembered that the second’ 
of these quotations is the voice of 
Marlowe and that therefore it should, in 
necessity, be the simpler of the two. Never- 
theless, the distinction can very clearly be 
observed. The first piece of prose is quite 5 
definitely lyrical; it has, it cannot be denied, ‘ 
something of the “ purple patch.” We feel 
that the prose is too dependent upon sonor- 
ous adjectives, that it has the deliberation 
of work slightly affected by the author’s 
74 




THE POET 


determination that it shall be fine. The 
rhythm in it, however, is as deliberate as the 
rhythm of any poem in English, the picture 
evoked as distinct and clear-cut as though it 
were, in actual fact, a poem detached from 
all context and, finally, there is the inevit- 
able philosophical implication to give the 
argument to the picture. Such passages of 
descriptive prose may be found again and 
again in the earlier novels and tales of Con- 
rad, in Almayer’s Folly, Tales of Unrest, The 
Nigger of the Narcissus, Typhoon, Youth, 
Reart of Darkness, Lord Jwi — piose piled 
high with sonorous and slow-moving adjec- 
tives, three adjectives to a noun, prose that 
sounds like an Eastern invocation to a deity 
in whom, nevertheless, the suppliant" does 
not feeflevei At its'worstj the strain that its 
sonority places upon movements ancTobJects 
of no importance is disastrous. Eor in- 
stance, in the tale oalled The Return, there 
is the following passage: — 

“ He saw her shoulder touch the lintel of 
the door. She swayed as if dazed. There was 
75 





JOSEPH CONRAD 


less than a second of suspense while they both 
felt as if poised on the very edge of moral 
annihilation, ready to fall into some devouring 
nowhere. Then almost simultaneously he 
shouted, ‘ Come back,’ and she let go the 
handle of the door. She turned round in 
peaceful desperation like one who has 
deliberately thrown away the last chance of 
life ; and for a moment the room she faced 
appeared terrible, and dark, and safe — like 
a grave.” 

The situation here simply will not bear 
the weight of the words — “ moral annihila- 
tion,” “ devouring nowhere,” “ peaceful 
desperation,” “ last chance of life,”'" 
“ terrible,” “ like a grave.” That he shouted 
gives a final touch of ludicrous exaggera- 
tion to the whole passage. 

Often, in the earlier books, Conrad’s style 
has the awkward over-emphasis of a writer 
who is stilh acquiring the language that he is 
using, like a foreigner who shouts to us be- 
cause he thinks that thus we slml! under- 
stand him more easily. But there Is also, 
m^^^^^t'styleTlhe marked effect of 
76 " " 








THE POET 


two i nfluences. One influence is that of 
theTrench language a nd e specially of the , 
author of Madame Bovary. When we 
recollect that Conrad hesitated at the be- 
ginni ng car eer ^ aFt o~whet liif^ e~wohJff 
writeln~E r ench or En glish, we ca n under- 
stand th is French inflection. JFIaubert’a 
effect on his s tyle is quite unmistakable. 
This is a sentence of Flaubert’s : “ Toutea 
ses velleites de demgrement l’envanouis- 
saient sous la poesio du role qui 1’envahis- 
sait; et entrainee vers l’homme par 1’ illu- 
sion du personnage elle thcha de se figurer sa 
vie, cette vie retentissante, extraordinaire, 

* splendide . . and this a sentence of 
Conrad’s: “Her hands slipped slowly off 
Lingard’s shoulders and her arms fell by 
her side, listless, discouraged, as if to her — 
to her, the savage, violent and ignorant 
creature— had been revealed clearly in that 
moment the tremendous fact of our isolation, 
of the loneliness, impenetrable and trans- 
parent, elusive and everlasting.” 

Conrad’s sentence reads like a direct trans- 
lation from the French. It is probable, 
77 




JOSEPH CONftAD 



of his form. T he in fl uence is ma nJy to be - 


detected in the arrangem ent of words and 
sentences as though he h ad, in the fast years 
oFE Ts work, used it as a crutch before he 
could walk alone. 

The second of the early, i nfluences upon 
:his style is of far grea ter importance — the 
1 Influenceof the vast, unfettered elements of 


nature that he had, f or so many year s, so 
directly served. If it were not for his re- 









THIS POET 


also in that, at that tim e, they were too 
strong for him. We feel with him that lie 
is impotent to express l iis wonder _and praise 
bec ause lie is still so immediately under their 
sway. His style, in these earlier bo ok s, ha s 
the repetition s and extended phrases of a 
man who is marking ~t ime b efo re the in- 
s pired moment comes to him— often the 
i nspiration does not come be cause he can- 
not detach himself, with sufficient pause and 
balance. . But m his middle period, in the 
period of Youth , Typhoon, Heart of Darkness 
and Nostromo, this lyrical impulse can be 
seen at its perfection, beating, steadily, 
^ontan ^usIyrwitE'the^ EnestTreerlom and 
yeT^Esmplmed, as it were, by its own will 
and desire. Compare, for a moment, this 
passage from Typhoon with that earlier one 
from The Outcast of the Islands that I quoted 
above-; 

“ He watched her, battered and solitary, 
labouring heavily in a wild scene of moun- 
tainous black water’s lit by the gleam 
of distant worlds. She moved slowly, 
breathing into the still core of the hurricane 
79 





JOSEPH CONRAD 


the excess of her strength in a white cloud of 
steam, and the deep-toned vibration of the 
escape was like the defiant trumpeting of a 
living creature of the sea impatient for the 
renewal of the contest. It ceased suddenly. 
The still air moaned. Above Jakes’ head 
a few stars shone into the pit of black 
vapours. The inky edge of the cloud-disc 
frowned upon the ship under the patch of 
glittering sky. The stars too seemed to 
look at her intently, as if for the last time, 
and the cluster of their splendour sat like a 
diadem on a lowering brow.” 

That is poet’s work, and poet’s work at” 
its finest. Instead of impressing us, as the ■ 
earlier piece of prose, with the fact that the- 
author has made the very most of a rather 
thin moment— feels, indeed, himself that it 
is thin— we are here under the influence of 
something that can have no limits to the 
splendours that it contains. The work is 
thick, as though it had been wrought by 
the finest workman out of the heart of the 
finest material — and yet it remains, through 
all its discipline, spontaneous. 

These three tales, Typhoon, Youth and 
80 ' , 



THE POET 


Heart of Darkness, stand by themselves as 
the final expression of Conrad’s lyrical gift. 
We may remember snch characters as 
M'Whirr, Kurtz, Marlowe, but they are 
figures as the old seneschal m The Eve of 
St Agnes or the Ancient Mariner himself are 
figures. They are as surely complete poems, * 
wrought and finished in the true spirit of 
poetry, as Whitman’s When Lilac first on 
the Door-yarcl bloomed or Keats’ Nightin- 
gale. Their author was never again to 
succeed so completely in c ombining the free 
spirit of h is e nthu siasm with the disciplined, 
restraint of the true artist. 

*> The thir d p eriod oj his style sho ws him 
cool and clear-headed as to the th ings that 
he intends to do. He is now the slightly 
ironic artist w hose business is to get things 
on to paper in the clearest possible way . He 
is conscious tha t in the pas t he has been at 
the me rc y o f sonorous and high-soundi ng 
adjectives. He will use them still, but only 
to show the m that they^are^a lThls mercy. 
Marlowe, his appointed minister, is oldpr^' 
he must look back now on the colours of 

F 81 




JOSEPH CONRAD 


Youth with an indulgent smile. And when 
Marlowe is absent, in such novels as The 
Secret Agent and Under Western Eyes, in such 
a volume of stories as A Set o f Six ,_ the lyrical 
beat in the style i s utterly abandoned — we 
are led forwar d by sentenc e s as g rave, as 
assured , and sometim es as ponderous as a_ 
city pol i ceman. Nevertheless, in that pass- 
age from Chance quoted at the beginning 
of the chapter, although we may be far 
from the undisciplined enthusiasm of An 
Outcast of the Islands, the lyrical impulse still 
remains. Yes, it is there, but— “ Young 
Powell felt it.” In that magical storm that 
was Typhoon God alone can share our terror 
and demand our courage; in the fater 
experience young Powell is our companion. 

n 

The question of style devolves here 
directly into the question of atm,o sphere. 
There may roughly be said to be four classes 
of novelists in the matter of atmosphere. 
There is the novelist who, intent upon his 

82 



THE POET 

daily bread or game of golf, lias no desire to 
be worried by such a perplexing business. He 
produces stories that might without loss play 
the whole of their action in the waiting-room 
of an English railway station. There is the 
novelist who thinks that atmosphere matters 
immensely, who works hard to produce it 
and does produce it in thick slabs. There 
are the novelists whose theme, characters 
and background react so admiiably that the 
atmosphere is provided simply by that re- 
action — and there, finally, it is left, put into 
no relation with other atmospheres, serving 
no further purpose than the immediate one 
’of stating the facts. Of this school are the 
realists and, in our own day, Mr Arnold 
Bennett’s Brighton background in Hilda 
Lessways or Mrs Wharton’s New York back- 
ground in The House of Mirth offer most 
successful examples of such realistic work. 
The fourth class provides us with the 
novelists who wish to place th eir atmosphere 
in rel ation with the rest of life. Our im- 
agination is awakened, insensibly, by jthe_ 
cont emplation of s ome sc ene and is thence 
S3 ' 



JOSEPH CONRAD 


extended to the whole vista of life, from 
bi rth to death ; although the scene may 
actually be as remot e or as c o nfine d~~as 
sp ace can make it , its poten tial limits are 
bou ndles s, its progression is extended be- 
yond all possibilities o f cT^hitibhT ~~Such a 
moment is the death of Bazarov in Fathers 
and Children, the searching of Dmitri in The 
Brothers Karamazov, the scene at the theatre 
in The Bing and the Booh, the London meet- 
ing between Beauchamp and Rene in Beau- 
champ's Career. It is not only tha t these 
scenes are “ done” to the ful l extent of their 
“doing,” it is also t hat they have behind 
them th e lyrical impulse that unites them'*' 
with all t he emotion and b eauty in the 
history ofthe world; Turgeni ev, Dos toiev- 
sky , " Brownin g , Mer edith were am on gst the 
great est of the poets.__ Conrad, at his h igh- 
est momen ts, i s also o f that company. 

But it is "hot enough to say that this 
potential atmosphere is simply lyrical. Mr 
Cheatexton, in his breathless Victorian Age 
m s Literature, hgs named this element 
Glamour. 


84 





THE POET 


In writing of the novels by George Eliot 
he says: “Indeed there is almost every 
element of literature, except a certain in- 
describable thing called Glamour, which 
was the whole stock-in-trade of the Brontes, 
which we feel in Dickens when Quilp 
clambers amid rotten wood by the desolate 
river; and even in Thackeray, when Edmond 
wanders like some swarthy crow about the 
dismal avenues of Castlowood.” How this 
matter of Glamour is not all, because Dickens, 
for instance, is not at all potential. IBs 
pictures of Quilp or the house of the Ded- 
locks or Jonas Chuzzlewit’s escape after 
the murder do not put us into touch with 
other worlds — but we may say, at any 
rate, that when, in a novel atmo s phere is 
•potential, it is certain also to have glamour. 

The potential qualities of Conrad’s atmos- 
phere are amongst his very strongest gifts ; 
and, if we investigate the matter, we see 1 
that it is his union of Romance and Realism 
that give s su ch results, .Of almost no 
important "scene in his novels is it -possible 
to define the boundaries, In Tlie Outcast 

"Yin ii . -*• 

85 






JOSEPH CONRAD 


of the Islands, when Willems is exiled 
by Captain Lingard, the terror of that 
forest has at its heart not only the actual 
terror of that immediate scene, minutely 
and realistically described — it has also the 
terror of all our knowledge of loneliness, 
desolation, the power of something stronger 
than ourselves. In Lord Jim the contr ast 
of Jim with the officers of the P atna is a 
contrast not only immediately vital and 
realised to the very fringe of the captain’s 
! gay and soiled pyjamas, but also potential 
i to the very limits of our ultimate conception 
\of the e ternal cont rast between good and 
evil, degradati on and vigour, ugliness and 
beautyT ln The Nigger of the Narcissus the 
death of the negro, James Wait, immedi- 
ately affects the lives of a number of very 
ordinary human beings whose friends and 
intimates we have become — but that shadow 
that traps the feet of the negro, that alarms 
the souls of Donirin, of Belfast, of Singleton, 
of the boy Charlie, creeps also to our sides 
and envelops for us far more than that 
single voyage of the Narcissus. 

86 






THE POET 


When Winnie Verloe, her old mother and 
the boy Stevie take their journey in the cab 
it does not seem ludicrous to us that the 
tears of “ that large female in a dark, dusty 
wig, and ancient silk dress festooned with 
dingy white cotton lace” should move us as 
though Mrs Verloe were our nearest friend. 
That mournful but courageous journey 
remains in our mind as an intimate com- 
panion of our own mournful and courageous 
experiences. Such examples might be mul- 
tiplied quite indefinitely. 

He has always secured his atmosphere 
by his own eager curiosltv^buuF^nific a^ 
detail, but his deta i l is significant, no t~Em 
cause he wishes t o impress his reader with 
thel^iimoFEis pict ure, but rather because 
helsTTiSTa very small boy in a strange house, 
pursu ing the most romantic adventures for 
his ow n pleasure and excitement only. We 
may hear, with many novelists, the click of 
satisfaction "with which they drive another 
nail into the framework that supports their 
picture. “ Now see how firmly it stands,” 
they say. “ That last nail settled it. ” But 






JOSEPH CONRAD 


Conrad is utterly u nconscious as to his 
read ers’ later cr edulity — he is too com- 
pletely held by his own a mazing dis- 
covSTesl Sometimes, as in The Return, 
whe n no vision is granted to hi m, it is as 
though h e wereTbanging on a brass tray with 
al l his s trength so that no one should per- 
ceive his ov uNgrievou^ at 

his failure. But, in his real discove ries. Low 
th e atmosphere piles i tself up, around and 
about him , how w e follow, at his heels, 
penetrating t he da rlmess, . trusting to his 
courage, fin ding ours elves sudden ly blinded 
by the blaze of A laddin’s cave.! If he is 
tracing t he tragedy of Willems and Ahnayer, 
a tragedy that has_ for its natural back- 
ground tlnWgargeous, heavy splendour of 
those unending forests, he sees de tail s that 
belong to the austerest and most sharply 
disciplined realism. We see Lakamba, 
asleep under the moon, slapping himself in 
his dreams to keep off the mosquitoes; a 
bluebottle comes buzzing into the verandah 
above the dirty plates of a half-finished 
meal and defies Lingard and Alrhayer, so 
88 





THE POET 


that they are like men disheartened hy some 
tremendous failure; the cards with which 
Lingard tries to build a house for Almayer’s 
baby are “ a dirty double pack ” with which 
he used to play Chinese bezique — it bored 
Almayer but the old seaman delighted in 
it, considering it a remarkable product of 
Chinese genius. The atmosphere of the 
terrible final chapters is set against this 
picture of a room in which Mrs Willems is 
waiting for her abominable husband: 

“ Bits of white stuff ; rags yellow, pink, 
blue ; rags limp, brilliant and soiled, trailed 
on the floor, lay on the desk amongst the 
sombre covers of books soiled, greasy, but 
stiff-backed in virtue, perhaps, of their 
European origin. The biggest set of book- 
shelves was partly hidden by a petticoat, the 
waistband of which was caught upon the 
back of a slender book pulled a little out of 
the row so as to make an improvised clothes- 
peg. The folding canvas bedstead stood 
anyhow, parallel to no wall, as if it had been, 
in the process of transportation to some 
remote place, dropped casually there by tired 
bearers. And on the tumbled blankets that 
89 




JOSEPH CONRAD 


lay in a disordered heap on its edge, Joanna 
sat. . . . Through the halt-open shutter a 
ray of sunlight, a ray merciless and crude, 
came into the room, heat in the early morn- 
ing upon the safe in the far-off corner, then, 
travelling against the sun, cut at midday 
the big desk in two with its solid and clean- 
edged brilliance ; with its hot brilliance in 
which a swarm of flies hovered in dancing 
flight over some dirty plate forgotten there 
amongst yellow papers for many a day !” 

And this room is set in the very heart 
of the forests — “ the forests unattainable, 
enigmatical, for ever beyond reach like the 
stars of heaven — and as indifferent.” Had ' 
I space I could multiply from every novel 
and tale examples of this creation of atmos- 
I phere by the jux t aposition of the lyrical 
! and the realistic — the lyrical pulse beating 
through re alistic detail and transforming it. 
Iwill, however, select one book, a supreme 
example of this effect. What I say about 
Nostromo may be proved from any other 
work of Conrad’s. 

The theme of Nostromo is the domination 
90 





THE POET 


of the silver of the Sulaeo mine over the 
bodies and souls of the human beings who 
live near it. The light of the silver shines 
over the book. It is typified by “ the white 
head of Higuerota rising majestically upon 
the blue.” Conrad, then, in choosing his 
theme, has selected the most romantic 
possible, the spirit of silver treasure luring 
men on desperately to adventure and to 
death. His atmosphere, therefore, is, in its 
highest fights, romantic, even until that last 
vision of all of “ the bright line of the 
horizon, overhung by a big white cloud 
shining like a mass of solid silver.” Sulaeo 
burns with colour. We can see, as though 
We had been there yesterday, those streets 
with the coaches, “ great family arks swayed 
on high leathern springs full of pretty 
powdered faces in which the eyes looked 
intensely alive and black,” the houses, 
“ in the early sunshine, delicate primrose, 
pale pink, pale blue,” or, after dark, from 
Mm Gould’s balcony “ towards the plaza 
end of the street the glowing coals in the 
hazeros of the market women cooking their 
91 




JOSEPH CONRAD 


evening meal glowed red along tlie edge of 
the pavement. A man appeared without a 
sound in the light oi a street lamp, show- 
ing the coloured inverted triangle of his 
broidered poncho, square on his shoulders, 
hanging to a point below his knees. From 
the harbour end of the Calle a horseman 
walked his soft-stepping mount, gleaming 
silver-grey abreast each lamp under the dark 
shape of the rider.” Later there is that 
sinister glimpse of the plaza, “ where a 
patrol of cavalry rode round and round 
without penetrating into the streets which 
resounded with shouts and the strumming 
of guitars issuing from the open doors of 
pulperias . . . and above the roofs, next 
to the perpendicular lines of the cathedral 
towers the snowy curve of Higuerota 
blocked a large space of darkening blue sky 
before the windows of the Intendencia.” 
In its final created beauty Sulaoo is as 
romantic, as coloured as one of .those cloud- 
topped, many-towered towns under whose 
gates we watch Grimm’s princes, and 
princesses passing— -but the detail,, of it is 
92 




THE POET 


built with careful realism demanded by the 
“ architecture of Manchester or Birming- 
ham.” We wonder^ as Sul aco grows 
familiar to us, as w e realise its cathedral, its 
squares~ahW streets and hou ses, its shi ms, 
its wharves, its sea, its hil ls an d forests, why 
it is that other novelists have not created 
towns forus.' " 

Anthony Trollope did, indeed, give us 
Barchester, but Barchester is a shadow be- 
side Sulaco. Mr Thomas Hardy’s Wessex 
map is the most fascinating document in 
mod ernfi otionTwith the pos sible ex ce ption 
of~~BtevensQn’s chart in Treasure Island. 
iConrad, wi thout any map at all, gives us a 
f amiliarity ~wit ITa smalFiownT o n the South 
American coast that far excels our know- 
ledge oF Barsetshire, Wessex and John 
Silver’s treasure. If any attentive reader 
of Nostromo were put down in Sulaco to- 
morrow he would feel as though he had 
returned to his native town. .The detail 
that provides this final picture is thr oughout 
the book incessant but never intruding, 

We do not look back, when the novel is 

L - • ' ■ \ “ J 


93 






JOSEPH CONRAT) 


finished, to any especial moment ol explana- 
tion or introduct ion. We have been led, 
qu ite unconsciously, forward. We are led. 
at moments of th e deepest drama, through 
rooms a nd passages that are only remembered, 
many hours later, m retrospect. There is, 
for instance, the Aristocratic Club, that 

“ extended to strangers the large hospitality 
of the cool, big rooms of its historic quarters 
in the front part of a house, once a residence 
of a high official of the Holy Office. The 
two wings, shut up, crumbled behind the 
nailed doors, and what may be described as 
a grove of young orange-trees grown in the 
impaved patio concealed the utter ruin of 
the back part facing the gate. You turned 
in from the street, as if entering a secluded 
orchard, where you came upon the foot of 
a disjointed staircase, guarded by a moss- 
stained effigy of some saintly bishop, mitred 
and staffed, and bearing the indignity of a 
broken nose meekly, with his fine stone 
hands crossed on his breast. The chocolate- 
coloured faces of servants with mops of 
black hair peeped at you from above ; the 
click of billiard balls came to your ears, and, 
94 



THE POET 


a&cendmg the steps, you would perhaps see 
in the first sala, very stiff upon a straight- 
backed chair, in a good light, Don Pepe 
moving his long moustaches as he spelt his 
way, at arm’s-length, through an old Sta 
Marta newspaper. IPs horse — a strong- 
hearted but persevering black brute, with a 
hammer head — you would have seen in the 
street dozing motionless under an immense 
saddle, with its nose almost touching the 
curbstone of the side-walk ! ” 

IIow perfectly recollected is that passage ! 
Can we not hear the exclamation of some 
reader : “ Yes — those orange-trees ! It 

"'Was just like that when I was there ! ” How 
convinced we are of Conrad’s unimpeach able 
veracity ! How Tike him are those re- 
membered details, “ the nailed doors,” “ the 
fine stone hands,” “ at arm’s-length” ! — and 
can we not sniff something of the author’s 
impatience to let himself go and tell us more 
about that “ hammer-headed horse” of 
whose adventures with Don Pepe he must 
remember enough to fill a volume! 

He is able, therefore, upon this foundation 
95 





JOSEPH CONRAD 


of a minute and scrupulous realism to build 
as i™tasti c~ almnding a slle pleases without 
fear of denying Truth.. He~~does* not, in 
Nostromo at any rateTcEoose to be fantastic, 
but he is romantic, and our final impression 
of the silver mine and the town under its 
white shining shadow is of something b oth 
as real and as beautiful as any visio n of 
Keats o r Shel ley. But with the colour we 
remember also the grim tragedy of the life 
that has been shown to us. Hear to the 
cathedral and the little tinkering streets of 
the guitars were the last awful struggles of 
the unhappy Hirsck. We remember Nos- 
tromo riding, with his silver buttons, catch- r 
ing the red flower flung to him out of the 
crowd, hut we remember also his death and 
the agony of his defeated pride. Sotillo, 
the vainest and most sordid of bandits, is 
no figure for a fairy story, 

Here, then, is the secret of Conrad’s at- 
mosphere. He is the poet, working through 
realism, Ho the poetic \usioh~oFliIH "'That 
"mtentTon'is "at the heart of his work from 
the first line of Almayer’s Folly to the last 



THE POET 


line of Victory. Nostromo is not simply 
tlie history of certain lives that were con- 
cerned in a South American revolution. It 
is that histor y, hut it is a lso a vision, a st ate- 
ment of_beauty that has no country, nor 
per iod, anT~sets" ~no~' Barrier of immedi ate 
history or f able for its interpretation. . . . 

When, however, we come finally to the 
philosophy that lies behind this creation 
of character and atmosphere we perceive, 
beyond question, certain limitations. 

iii 

As we have already seen, Conrad is of the 
firm and resolut e conviction th at life is too 
strong, too clever and too remorseless fori he 
sons of men. 

It is as though, from some high window, 
looking down, he were able to watch some 
shore, from whose security men were for 
ever launching little cockle-shell boats upon 
a limitless and angry sea. He observes 
them, as they advance with confidence, with 
determination, each with his own sure 

' o 97 



JOSEPH CONRAD 


ambition of nailing victory to bis mast ; be 
alone can see that the horizon is limitless ; 
he can see farther than they — from his 
height he can follow their fortunes, their 
brave struggles, their fortitude to the very 
last. He admires that courage, the sim- 
plicity of that faith, but his irony springs 
from his knowledge of the inevitable end. 

There are, we may thankfully maintain, , 
oth er possible views of life, and it is, surely, 
Conrad’s harshest lim it ation that he should 
never be~5ee~from this certain obsession of 
the vanity of huma n stru ggle.. So bound is? 
he by this thaFEoTs driven to choose char A 
\ acters who will prove his faith. We can) 
\ remember many fine and courageous char- ] 
1 acters of his creation, we can remember nol 
'single one who is not foredoomed to defeat, j 
, Jim wins, indeed, his victory, but at the 1 
close : “ And that’s the end- He passes 
away under a cloud, inscrutable at heart,, 
forgotten, unforgiven, and excessively ro-’ 
mantic. . , . He goes ,away from a living 
woman to celebrate’ his .pitiless wedding 

wEETaTshadow^d eal^F conduct?^ ^ 

m 




THE POET 


Conrad’s ironical smile that has watched 
with tenderness the history of Jim’s endeav- 
ours, proclaims, at the last, that that pursuit 
has been vain — as vain as Stein’s butterflies. 

And, for the rest, as Mr Curie in his study 
of Conrad has admirably observed, every 
character is faced with the enemy for whom! 
he is, by characte r, least fitted. Nostromcv 
whose " heart’s** 'desire it is that his merits 
should be acclaimed before men, is devoured 
by the one dragon to whom human achieve- 
ments are nothing — lust of treasure. 

MfWbirr, the most unimaginative of men, 
is opposed by the most tremendous of 
"God’s splendid terrors and, although he 
saves his ship from the storm, so blind is he 
to the meaning of the things that he has 
witnessed that he might as well have never 
been bom. Captain Brierley, watching the 
degradation of a fellow-creature from a 
security that nothing, it seems, can threaten, 
is himself caught by that very degrada- 
tion. . . . The Beast in the Jungle is wait- 
ing ever ready to leap— -the vic tim is always 
in his power. , J 


9$ 




JOSEPH CONRAD 


It comes fro'm this philosophy of life that 
the qualities in the human soul t hat Conrad 
most definitely admixes ar e blind courage 
and obedience to duty." His men of brain 
— ^Marfowe, Decou<h_ Stein — are_ melancholy 
and 'ironic ; “ IFyo u see far eno ugh yon 
must see how hopeless the struggle i s.” 
Tlie only way to be honestly happy is to 
have_no imagination and, because Conrad 
is te nder at heart and would have hi s ch ar- 
acters happy, if possible, he choo ses men 
witho u t imaginat ion. Those are the men 
of the sea whom he has knowry andlo ved. 

1 The men of the jandTseeTarther than t he m en 
of the se a and must, therefore, be eith er fools' 
pr kna ves. /Towards Captain Anthony, to- 
wards "Captain Lingard he extends his love 
and pity, Eor Verloe, for Ossipon, for old 
De Barral he has a disgust that is beydnd 
words. Eor the Eynes and their brethren 
he 'has contempt- Eor two women of the 
land,/', "Winnie Verloe and Mrs Could, he 
reserves his love, and for them alone, but 
they have, in their hearts, the, simplicity, 
the honesty of his own sea captains, 
ibo 




THE POET 


This then is quite simply Ms philosophy. 
It has no variation or relief. He -will not 
permit his characters to escape, he will not 
himself try to draw the soul of a man who is 
stronger than Eate. His ironic melancholy 
does not, for an instant, hamper his interest 
— that is as keen and acute as is the absorp- 
tion of any collector of specimens— but at 
the end of it all, as with his own Stein; 

“ He says of him that he is ‘ preparing to 
leave all this; preparing to leave . . 
while he waves his hand sadly at his 
butterflies.” 

Utterly opposed is it from the philosophy 
* of the pne English writer whom, in all other 
ways, Conrad most obviously resembles— 
Robert Browning. As philosophers they 
have no possible ground of communication, ■ 
save in the honesty that is common to both 
of them. As artists, both in their subjects 
and their treatment of their subjects, they 
are, in many ways, of an amazing resem- 
blance, although the thorough investigation 
of that resemblance would need far more 
space than I can give it here. Browning’s 
101 



JOSEPH CONRAD 


interest in life was derived, on the novelist’s 
side of him, from, his absorption in the 
affairs, spiritual and physical, of men and 
women ; on the poet’s side, in the question 
again spiritual and physical, that arose from 
''those affairs. Conrad h as not Browning’s 
clear-eyed realisation of the necessity of 
discovering the individual philosophy that 
belongs to every individual cape— he is t oo 
Immediately enveloped in his one ovem 
whel ming melancholy analysis. But he has 
exact!y~liEat eager, passionate pursuit of 
romance, a romance to he seized only 
through the most accurate and honest 
realism. 

Browning’s realism was born of his excite- 
ment at the number and interest of his dis- 
coveries; he chose, for instance, in SordeUo 
the most romantic of subjects, and, having 
made Ins choice, found that there was such a 
world of realistic detail in the case that* ip 
• bis excitement, he forgot that the rest of tbe 
world did not know quite as much as be did. 
Is not this exactly what we may say of 
Nostmno ? Mr Chesterton has written - of 
102 




THE POET 


Browning : “He substituted the street with 
the green blind for the faded garden of 
Watteau, and the ‘ blue spirt of a lighted 
match’ for the monotony of the evening 
star,” Conrad has substituted for the lover- 
serenading his mistress’ window the passion 
of a middle-aged, faded woman for her idiot 
boy, or the elopement of the daughter 
of a fraudulent speculator with an elderly, 
taciturn sea captain. 

The characters^ upon whom Robert 
Brow ning lav ished his affection are pre- 
cisely Con rad’s characters. Is not Waring 
Conrad’s "man ? 

And for the rest, is not Mr Sludge own 
brother to Verloc and old De Barrel ? 
Bishop Blougram first cousin to the great 
Personage in The Secret Agent , Captain 
Anthony brother to Caponsacchi, Mrs C4oUld 
sister to Pompilia ? It is not only that 
Brow ning and Co nrad both investigate these 
characte rs with the same dete rminatio n to 
extrac t the last word of truth from the 
matterrhotgri mly, but with a thrilling beat 
oFth^eaHTI Fmalso that the worlds of these 
103 




JOSEPH CONRAD 


two poets are tl xe same. How deeply would 
Nostromo, Decoud, Gould, Mon.yngh.am, 
the Verlocs, Flora de Barrel, M ‘Whirr, Jim 
have interested Browning ! Surely Conrad 
has witnessed the revelation of Caliban, of 
Childe Roland, of James Lee’s wife, of the 
figures in the Arezzo tragedy, even of that 
bishop who ordered his tomb at St Praxed’s 
Church, with a strange wonder as though he 
himself had assisted at these discoveries ! 

Finally, The Ring and the Booh, with its 
multiplied witnesses, its statement as a 
“ case” of life, its pursuit of beauty through 
truth, the simplicity of the characters of 
Pompilia, Caponsacchi and the Pope, the 
last frantic appeal of Guido, the detail, en- 
crusted thick in the walls of that superb 
building— here we can see the highest 
pinnacle of that temple that has Chance, 
Lord Jim, Nostromo amongst its other 
turrets, buttresses and towers. 

Conrad is his own master — he has imitated 
no~ one, he has created, as I hate already 
said, his own planet, but the heights to which 
Browning carried Romantic-Realism showed 






THE POET 


the author of Almayefs F olly the signs of 
the road that he~was to follow! 

If, as has ofteiTBeen said, Browning was 
as truly novelist as poet, may we not now 
say • withequarjustice ‘ tEaF~O onrad 'ls~~as 
tralaVoet~as~novelist ? 


105 




TV 

ROMANCE AND REALISM 

i 

r" | *s HE ter ms, Romance and Realism, 

I have been used of late years very ' 
-A- largely as a means of escape from 
this business of the creation of cha racter. 
The pureTy rom an tic novel may now be said 
to "be , in Eng land at any r ate, absolutely dead. 
Mr Erank Swinnerton, in his study of Robert 
Louis Stevenson, said : “ Stevenson, reviving 
the never-very-prosperous romance of Eng- 
land, created a school which has brought 
romance to be the sweepings of an old 
> costume-chest ; ... if romance is to be con- 
ventional in a double sense, if it spring not 
from a personal vision of life, but is only 
a tedious virtuosity, a pretence, a conscious 
toy, romance as an art is dead. The art 
was jaded when Reade finished his vobifer- 
106 



ROMANCE AND REALISM 


ous caipet-beati ng; but it was not dead. 
And if it is dead, Stevenson killed it ! ” 

We may differ very considerably from 
Mr Swinnerton with regaid to liis estimate 
of Stevenson’s present and future literary 
value without denying that the date of 
the publication of St Ives was also the 
date of the death of the purely romantic 
novel. 

But, surely, here, as Mr Swinnerton him- 
self infers, the term “ Romantic ” is used in 
the limited and truncated idea that has 
formed, lately the popular idea of Romance. 
In exactly the same way the term “ Real- 
ism” has, recently, been most foolishly 
and uncritically handicapped. Jtomance, 
in jts modern use, covers everything tha t is 
removed^ from reality ; “ I like romances,” 
we hear the modern reader say, “ bec ause 
they take me away fr om real li fe, which I 
desire' to forget.” In t he same Way Real- 
ism is’ define cT"by its enemies as a photo- 

graphic enu meration of u ni mportant facts 
hy anNib servant pessi mist- “ I lik e real- 
ism^ admircrs of a certain order of novel 


107 




JOSEPH CONRAD 


exclaim, “ becauseit is so lik e life. It tells 
me just what I my sel f se e every day — I 
know where j am.” 

~ Nevertheless, impatient though we may 
be of these utterly false ideas of Romance 
and Realism, a definition of those terms 
that will satisfy everyone is almost im- 
possible. I cannot hope to achieve so 
exclusive an ambition — I can only say that 
to myself Realism is the study of life with** 
all the rational faculties of observation 
reason and reminiscence— -Romance is the 
(study of life with the faculties of imagina- 
tion. I do not mean that Realism may not 
be emotional, poetic, even lyrical, but it is 
j based always upon truth perceived and 
recorded — it is the essence of observation. 
In the same way Romance may be, indeed 
must be, accurate and defined in its own 
world, but its spirit is the spirit of imagina- 
tion, working often upon observation and 
sometimes simply upon inspiration. It is, 
at any rate, understood here that the word 
Romance does not, for a moment, imply a 
necessary divorce from reality, nor does 
108 




ROMANCE AND REALISM 


Realism imply a detailed and dusty pre- 
ference for morbid and unagreeable sub- 
jects. JR js possible for Romance to be as 
honestly and clearly perceptive as Realism, 
but it is not so easy for it to be so because 
imagination is more difficult of disc ipline 
than observation. It is possible for Realism 
to be aFelocpient and potential as Romance, 
although it cannot so easily achieve eloquence 
because of its fear of deserting truth. jflore- 
over, with regard to the influence of foreign 
literature upon the English nov el, It may be , 
suggested t hat the influence of the French * 
novel , wh ich was at its strongest b etwe en J 
"the years jof 1886 and 1895, was to wards ' 
Realism, a nd that _ t he in fluenc e o f the 
Rushan novel , whi ch h as certainly been very 
str ongly marke d i n Engla nd during fh ’ last 
years, is all tow ards Rornantic-^Realism. If ' 
we wished to know exactly what is meant 
by Romantic-Realism, such a novel as The 
Brothers Karamazov, such a play as The 
Cherry Orchard are there before us, as the 
best possible examples. We might say, in 
a word, that Karamazov has, in the England 
109 



JOSEPH CONRAD 


of 1915, taken ike place tliat was occupied, 
in 1890, by Madame Bovary. . . . 


ix 


It is Joseph Conrad whose influence is 
chiefly responsible for this development in 
the English novel. Just as, in the early 
nineties, Mr Henry James and Mr Rudyard 


Kipling, the one potential, the other kinetic, 
influenced, beyond all contemporary novel- 
ists, the minds of their younger generation, 
so to-day, twenty-five years later, do Mr 
Joseph Conrad and Mr H. G. Wells, the one 
"potential, the other kinetic, hold that same* 
position. 


Joseph Conrad, from the very first, in- 
fluenced though fie was by the French novel, 
showed that Realism alone was not enough 
for him. That is to say that, in presenting 
tffipease of Ahnayer, it was not enough for 
him merely to state as truthfully as possible 
Those facts, sordid as they are, 
ffiake the story of Almayer’s degradation 
sufficiently realistic, when it is ’merely 
HO 



ROMANCE AND REALISM 


recoided and perceived by any obsciver. 
But upon these recorded facts Conrad’s 
imagination, without for a moment desert- 
ing the truth, worked, beautifying, ennob- 
ling it, giving it pity and terror, above all 
putting it into relation with the whole 
universe, the whole history of the cycle of 
life and death. 

As I have said, the Romantic novel, in 
Jts simplest form, was used, very often, 
by writers who wished to escape from the 
business of the creation of character. It 
had not been used for that purpose by Sir 
Walter Scott, who Was, indeed, the first 
English Romantic-Realist, but it was so 
used by his successors, who found a little 
optimism, a little adventure, a little colour 
and a little tradition go a long way towards 
coveiing the required ground. 

Conrad had, from the first, a poet’s-— that , 
is to say, a romantic — mind, and his dgjjj p 
mination to use that xomanoe^eahst^iy. , 
was simply his determination to 
fail playoflns romantic munTmihe eyen o? 

alTEdnest men. *" ' " n 

111 





JOSEPH CONRAD 


In that intention he has absolutely suc- 
ceeded; he has not abated one jot of his 
romance — Nosiromo , Lord Jim, Heart of 
Darkness are amongst the most romantic 
things in all our literature — but the last 
charge that any critic can make against him 
is falsification, whether of facts, of inference 
or of consequences. 

The whole history of his development has 
for its key-stone this dete rmination to save, 
his romance by Jhis reality, to e xtend~his 
real ty - b y his romance^ Efe found in English 
fiction little that could assist him in this 
development ; the Russian novelists were to 
J supply him with his clue. This whole question 
of Russian influence is difficult to define, 
but that Conrad has been influenced by 
Turgeniev a little and by Dostoievsky very 
considerably, cannot be denied. Crime and 
Punishment, The Idiot, The Possessed, The 
Brothers Karamazov are romantic realism 
at the most astonishing heights that this 
development of the novel is ever likely to 
attain. We will never see again heroes of 
the Prime Myshkin, Dmitri 1 Karamazov, 




ROMANCE AND REALISM 


Nicolas Stavrogin build, men. so real to us 
that no change of time or place, age or 
sickness can take them from us, men so 
beautifully lit with the romantic passion 
of Dostoievsky’s love of humanity that they 
seem to warm the whole world, as we know 
it, with the fire of their charity. That 
power of creating figures typical as well as 
individual has been denied to Conrad. 
dlaptain Antb ony, Nostromo, Jim do not 
belong to the whole world, poor do they 
escape' the lirmtations and c onfin ements 
that" th eir pre sentation as “ cases” involves 
on them,- Moreover, Conrad does not love 
humanity. He feels pity, tenderness, ad- 
miration, but love, except for certain of 
his sea heroes, never, and even with his sea 
jieroes it is love built on his scorn of theland. 
Dostoievsky scorned no one and nothing; 
as relentless in his pursuit of the truth as 
Stendhal or Flaubert, he found humanity, 
as he investigated it, beautiful because-of its 
humanity— Conrad finds humanity pitiab® 
because of its humanity. 

Nevertheless he has been influenced by 
K 113 







JOSEPH CONRAD 


blie Russian writer continuously and some- 
times obviously. In at least one novel, 
Under Western Eyes, the influence has led 
bo imitation. For that reason, perhaps, 
that novel is the least vital of all his books, 
and we feel as though Dostoievsky had given 
him Razumov to see what he could make of 
him, and had remained too overwhelmingly 
curious an onlooker to allow independent 
creation. What, however, Conrad has,- in* 
common with the creator of Raskolnikov 
is his thrilling pursuit of the lives, the hearts, 
the minutest details of his characters. 
Conrad alone of all English novelists shares 
this zest with the great Russian. Dostoiev- 
sky found his romance in his love of his 
fellow-beings, Conrad finds his in his love 
of beauty, his poet’s cry for colour, but 
their realism they find together in the hearts 
of men — and they find it not as Flaubert, 
that they make of it a perfect work of art, 
not as Turgeniev, that they may extract 
from it a flower of poignant beauty, not as 
Tolstoi, that they may, from it, found a 
gospel— - simply they purs ue their quest 
114 



ROMANCE AND REALISM 


because the br eathl ess intere st of the pu rsuit 
is stronger than they; They have, both of 
them, created characters amply because 
characters demanded to be^ c reated. ”We 
f eeT tEat~Emma Bovary was dragged, pain- 
fully, arduously, against all the strength of 
her determination, out of the shades where 
she was lurking. Myshkin, the Karama- 
zovs, and, in their own degree, Nostromo, 
rAlmayer, M‘ Whirr, demanded that they 
should be flung upon the page. 

Instead of seizi ng upon Roman ce as a 
meansKTa voiding charac ter, he h as triumph - 
antly'forced it to aid him in the creation of 
Niehve s that, through him, de mand exis- 
tence, This may he said to he the great 
thing that Conrad has done for the English 
novel — he has brought the zest of creation 
back intolt ; the Trench no velists used life 
to perfect their art — the Russian novelists 
used art to liberate their passion for life. 
That at this moment in Russia the novel 
has lost that zest, that the work of Koup- 
rin, Aitzybashev, Sologub, Merejkovsky, 
Andreiev, shows exhaustion and sterility 
115 



JOSEPH CONRAD 


means nothing ; the stream will soon run 
Cull again. Meanwhile we, in England, 
know once more what it is to feel, in the 
novel, the power behind the novelist, to be 
ourselves in the grip of a force that is not 
afraid of romance nor ashamed of realism 
that cares for life as life and not as a means 
of proving the necessity for form, the danger 
of too many adjectives, the virtues of the 
divorce laws or the paradise of free love. ~ 

in 

Which has gained the g reater conquest 
in Conrad’s later work , romanc e or realism^ 
He Eas publisiicd since Chance five novels : 
Victory , The Shadow Line , The Arrow of 
Gold, The Rescue and The Rover ; also two 
volumes of short stories : A Set of Six and 
Within the Tides. Is_ there in these any 
danger lest romance should divorce him 
ultim ately from reality % Victory, splendid 
tale though it is, does not entirely reassure 
us. The theme of the book is the pursuit of 
almost helpless uprightness and innocence 
116 


ROMANCE AND REALISM 


by almost helpless evil and malignancy ; 
that is to say that the strength and virtue 
of Heyst and Lena are as elemental and 
independent of human will and effort as 
the villainy and slime of Mr Jones and 
Ricardo. Conrad has here then returned to 
his old early demonstration that nature is 
too strong for man and I feel as though, in 
this book, he had intended the whole affair 
to be blown, finally, sky-high by some 
natural volcanic eruption. lie prepares for 
that eruption and when, for some reason or 
another, that elemental catastrophe is pre- 
vented he consoles himself by strewing the 
Reach of his island with the battered corpses 
of his characters. It is in such a wanton 
conclusion, following as it does immediately 
upon the finest, strongest and most beautiful 
thing in the whole of Conrad— the last 
conversation between Heyst and Lena— 
that we see this above-mentioned divorce 
from reality. We see it again in the more 
fantastic characteristics of Mr Jones and 
Ricardo, in the presence of the Orang- 
Outang, and in other smaller and less 
117 




JOSEPH CONRAD 


important effects. At the same time his 
realism, when he pleases, as in the arrival 
of the boat of the thirst-maddened trio on 
the island beach, is as magnificent in its 
austerity and truth as ever it was. 

The Arrow of Gold is sheer romance, and 
for that reason perhaps has been judged in 
this realistic age more harshly than any 
other of Conrad’s books, but for one reader 
at least the heroine “Rita” is his finest' 
feminine portrait. Judged as romantic 
reminiscence the book is bathed in the light 
that perhaps exaggerates the characters and 
dims the reality of certain scenes, but is 
gorgeous in its poetry and power. The 
Rescue (a book begun by Comad thirty 
'years before) is J ine in its atm osphere of 
sea and land, but unconvincin g in one of 
its feminine characters and its fable. The 
Shadow Line is almost entirely atmosphere, 
and is poetry as Coleridge’s Ancient Mariner 
was poetry. But our completest reassurance 
as to the surviving strength of Conrad’s 
genius comes, I think, with The Rover. His 
picture of the after-effects of the French 
118 



ROMANCE AND REALISM 


Revolution when the fires of destruction 
have died down, but when the ashes are 
still hot beneath the foot, is surely superb, 
Peyrol too is in many ways the finest of all 
his honest seamen. Conrad alone among 
contemporary writers could have given that 
magnificent sweep to the end of the book 
when, with a tiny vignette of Nelson, he 
brings the adventures of a few stray human 
souls stranded on a narrow strip of almost 
deserted soil into the warfare of the whole 
of Europe. Hero there is> a union of both 
romance and reality, of poetry and prose, oT 
suggestion and empha tic statement. It is a 
' book worthy of the line of masterpieces that 
has preceded it. 

Suspense , published after his death, has 
been often described as “ a fragment.” It 
is very much more than that, and even now, 
after a distance of time, seen in relation 
to all his work, it is an extraordinary proof 
of bow yibal bis creative power was"aT the 
very moment of his death." He caffs it a 
“Napoleonic Novel,” and the shadow of 
Napoleon, who does not appear, is over it. 

119 




JOSEPH CONRAD 


The figures — Cosmo, the Marquis, Martel — • 
almost hurst the page with their force, and 
the last scene on the water under the stars 
is Conrad’s last word as a poet to us. 

There will come, I have no doubt, the 
critical reaction that always follows the sur- 
prised recognition of a new genius. The 
novels will have their final place allotted to 
them ; time is the only critic of weight in 
the school of the arts, but, whatever the 
verdict may be, it seems impossible to doubt 
that in the long stretch from Almayer’s Folly 
of 1896 to The Rover of 1923, great master- 
pieces have occurred. It seems impossible 
to believe but that, so long as the English r 
language is read, Youth and The Nigger of 
the Narcissus , Lord Jim and Typhoon, Nos- 
tromo and The Rover will give abundant de- 
light to the lovers of beauty and of truth ; 
in any case it was, for the English novel, 
no mean or insignificant fortune that brought 
the author of these boohs to our shores to 
give a fresh impetus to the life of our litera- 
ture and to enrich our experience with a 
new world of character and high adventure,, 
120 




A SHORT BIBLIOGRAPHY OF 
JOSEPH CONRAD’S PRINCI- 
PAL WRITINGS 

Almayer’s Folly : A Story of an Eastern Eiver 
(Unwin). 1895. 

An Outcast of the Islands (Unwin) 1896. 

The Nigger of the “Narcissus ” : A Tale of the Sea 
(Heinemann). 1897. 

Tales of Unrest (Unwin). 1898. 

Lord Jim : A Tale ( Blackwood ). 1900. New edition, 
with new “Author’s Note” (Dent). 1917. 

The Inheritors : An Extravagant Story. By Joseph 
Conrad and Ford M. HuefEer (Heinemann). 1901. 

Youth : a Narrative, and Two Other Stories (Black- 
wood). 1902, New edition, with new 
"Author’s Note" (Deni). 1917. 

Typhoon and Other Stories (Heinemann). 1903. 

Romance : A Novel. By Joseph Conrad and Ford 
Madox HuefEer (Smith, Elder). 1903. 

Nostromo : A Tale of the Seaboard (Uarpei). 1901- 
New edition, with new “Author’s Note " (Dent). 
1918. 

The Mirror of the Sea : Memories and Impressions 
(Methuen). 1906. 

The Secret Agent : A Simple Tale (Methuen). 1907- 

A Set of Six : Tales (Methuen). 1908. 

121 



JOBEPI-I CONRAD 


Under Western Eyes {Methuen). 1911. 

Some Reminiscences (Nash). 1912. Cheap edition 
under title “ A Personal Record ” (Nelson). 
1916. New edition, with new " Author’s Note ” 
(Dent). 1919. 

’Twixt Land and Sea : Tales (Dent). 1912. 

Chance : A Tale in Two Parts (Methuen). 1914. 
Within the Tides : Tales (Dent). 1915. 

Victory : An Island Tale (Methuen). 1915. 

The Shadow Line : A Confession (Dent). 1917, 

One Day More : A Play in One Act ( Beaumont Press).* 

1919. (Limited edition.) 

The Arrow of Gold : A Story Between Two Notes 
, (Unwin). 1919. 

The Rescue : A Romance of the Shallows (Dent). 

1920. 

Notes on Life and Letters (Dent). 1921. 

The Works of Joseph Conrad. Limited edition de 
luxe. 18 vols. (Ileinemann). 1921. 

Notes on my Books. (A collection of the “ Author’s 
Notes,” written chiefly for the Collected Edition) 
(Eeinemmn). 1921. Limited edition. 

The Secret Agent : A Drama in Three Acts (Werner 
Laurie). 1923. Limited edition. 

The Works of Joseph Conrad. (The Uniform Edi- 
tion.) 19 vols. (Dent). 1923-1924. 

Laughing Anne : A Play (The Bookman’s Journal). 

1923. Limited edition. 

The Rover (Unwin). 1923. 

Suspense (Dent). 1925. 

Tales of Hearsay (Unwin). 1925. 




AMERICAN BIBLIOGRAPHY 

Almayer’s Polly : A Story of an Eastern River 
( Macmillan ). 1895. New editions, 1912 ; 

( Doubleday ). 1914 

An Outcast of the Islands (Appleton). 1896. New 
edition ( Doubleday ). 1914. 

The Children of the Sea : A Tale of the Forecastle 
(Dodd, Mead). 1897. New edition, 1912. New 
edition under English title : “ The Nigger of the 
' Narcissus 1 ” (Doubleday). 1914 

Tales of Unrest (Scribner). 1898. 

Lord Jim (Doubleday). 1900. New edition, 1914. 
The Inheritors. By Joseph Conrad and Ford M. 

Hueffer (McClure Co.). 1901. 

Typhoon (Putnam). 1902, New edition ( Doubleday ). 
1914 

Youth, and two Other Stories (McClure Co. After- 
wards transferred to Doubleday), 1903. 

Falk : Amy Foster : To-morrow [Three Stories] 
(McClure Co.). 1903. New edition (Doubleday). 
1914 

Romance. By Joseph Conrad and Ford Madox 
Hueffer (McClure Co. Afterwards transferred 
to Doubleday). 1904 

Nostromo : A Tale of the Seaboard (Harper). 1904 
The Mirror of the Sea : Memories and Impressions 
(Harper). 1906. 


123 



JOSE'PI-I CONRAD 


The Secret Agent : A Simple Tale (Harper). 1907. 

A Point of Honour : A Military Tale ( McClure Co. 
Afterwards transferred to Doubleday). 1908. 

Under Western Eyes : A Novel (Harper). 1911. 

A Personal Record (Harper). 1912. 

’Twixt Land and Sea : Tales (Doran). 1912, New 
edition (Doubleday). 1914. 

Chance : A Tale in Two Parts (Doubleclay). 1914. 

A Set of Six [Tales : one, “ The Duel,” previously 
issued as “ A Point of Honour ”] (Doubleday). 
1915. 

Victory ; An Island Tale (Doubleday). 1915. 

Within the Tides : Tales (Doubleday). 1916. 

The Shadow Lino : A Confession (Doubleday). 1917. 

The Arrow of Gold : A Story Between Two Notes 
(Doubleday). 1919. 

The Rescue : A Romance of the Shallows (Double- 
day). 1920. 

One Day More: A Play in One Act (Doubleday). 1920. 

The Sundial Edition of the Works of Joseph Conrad. 
18 vols. (Doubleday). 1920-1921. 

Notes on Life and Letters (Doubleday). 1921, 

The Rover (Doubleday). 1923. 


124 




INDEX 


Almayer’a Folly, 9, 12, 13, 14, 22, 38, 76, 119, 120 
Arrow oj Gold, The, 116, 118 

Bennett, Arnold, S9, 83 
Beresford, J. D., 116 
Brothers Karamazov, The, 109 
Browning, 84, 101, 102, 103, 104 

'Chance, 14, 16, 21, 43, 63, 56, 119 
Cherry Orchard, The, 60, 109 
Chesterton, G. K., 84 
Conrad, J., birth, 8 ; naturalised, 8 
Curie, R„ 99 

Dickens, 85 

“•Dostoievsky, 20, 84, 113, 114 

Eliot, Georgo, 86 
End of the Tether, The, 50 
Evan Harrington, 38 
Stic of St Agnes, The, 81 

Flaubert, 77, 114 
Form, 40 

Frtya of the Seven Islands, 35 
Galsworthy, J,, 59 
Hardy, 38, 59, 93 

Heart of Darkness, 17, 66, 75, 79, 81 
Huefior, F. M., 14 


Irony, 55 


123 



JOSEPH CONRAD 


James, Henry, 38, 41, 42, 59, 110 
Keats, 81 

Kipling, B„ 38, 110 

Lord Jim, 13, 1G, 43, GG, 76, 8G, 120 
Lyrical impulse, 82 

Madame Bovary, 38, 77, 110 

Meredith, 38, 84 

Method in flotion, 41, 48, etc. 

Mid-Victorian English novel, 68 
Mirror of the Sea, The, 16, 21, 27, 30, 32 

Nature, 78 

Nigger of the Narcissus, The, 13, 15, 27, 56, 63, 75, 80, 120 
Nostromo, 14, 18, 43, 49, 56, 79, 90, 90, 97, 102, 119, 120 

Outcast of the Islands , An, 14, 19, 73, 79, 82, 85 

Philosophy, 57 
Poland, 9, 24 

Baalism, 108, 110 
Rescue, The, 116, 118 
Return, The, 75 
Richanl Revarel, 38 
Romance, 14, 70 

Bomance, 108, P v ussian infl nonce, 109, 112, etc. 

Rover, The, 116, 118, 120 

Sea, 8, 28 

Secret Agent, The, 14, 19, 57, 72, 82, 103 
Secret Sharer, The, 20 ' 

Set of Six, A. 20, 82, 118 
Shadow Line, The, 118, 118 

126 



INDEX 


Slmw, Bornard, 30 
Ships, 33 

Simile of Fortune, A, 20 

Some Reminiscences, 21, 22, 26 

Sordello, 102 

Spectator, The, 12 

Stevenson, Robert Louis, 38, 03 

Style, 82 

Swinnerton, Frank, 106, 107 

Tales of V meet, 16, 76 

Tchelcov, 60 

Themes, 64 

Tolstoi, 114 

T. P.’s Weekly, 18 

Tremolino, 35 

Trollope, Anthony, 93 

Targfeiev, 20, 84, 114 

’Tviixt Land and Sea, 20, 60 

Typhoon, 14, 17, 30, CO, 61, 76, 79, 80, 82, 120 

Under Western Eyes, 19, 67, 72, 82 
Une Vie, 38 

Victory, 14, 116, 118 

Wells, H. G., 39, 69, 110 
Wharton, Mis, 59, 33 
Whitman, 81 
Within the Tides, 116 

Yellow Book, The, 38 

Youth, 14, 17, 30, 70, 79, 80. 82, 120 


127 




Printed In Great Biltaln 
by The Eivoisido Press Limited 
Edlnbuigh